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The Edge: On Syria, Obama Looks for a Way Out

The Edge is National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. To subscribe, click here.

On Syria, Obama Looks for a Way Out


Hillary Rodham Clinton, just out of a meeting with President Obama, this afternoon endorsed what appeared to be a diplomatic way around military action against Syria, giving her support to a Russian proposal for securing the regime's chemical-weapons stockpile.

"If the regime immediately surrenders its stockpiles to international control … that would be an important step," Clinton said, appearing to endorse the proposal made by Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. Lavrov, in turn, said he was only acting on a suggestion made earlier in the day in London by Clinton's successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, who told reporters: "Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that."

Kerry had added, "But [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] isn't about to do it, and it can't be done." A State Department spokeswoman later tried to walk back the idea, saying Kerry was speaking "rhetorically." But by day's end, facing an ever-steeper climb in Congress on the Syria vote, Obama appeared to be sending his former secretary of State out to endorse a possible deal. In her remarks, Clinton insisted that such a proposal could only work because of Obama's "credible military threat."


Michael Hirsh


SYRIA 'WELCOMES' RUSSIAN PUSH TO CEDE CONTROL OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS. The Syrian government said today it that "welcomes" a Russian proposal to turn over its chemical weapons for destruction, but did not make clear whether it would agree to such terms, The Wall Street Journal reports. A somewhat skeptical White House announced plans to take a "hard look" at Russia's proposal. Earlier in the day, Russia urged Syria to comply with an offhand remark made by Secretary of State John Kerry that President Bashar al-Assad could prevent a military strike if his government ceded its chemical weapons arsenal to the international community. National Security Adviser Susan Rice insisted in a speech today that the creation of a post-Assad transitional authority in Syria would be the "only" long-term means of ending bloodshed in the nation's ongoing civil war. Read more

  • Syria's army began an attack Monday in the hills near the Christian-majority village of Maaloula outside Damascus just two days after rebels connected to a Qaida affiliate captured the community, the Associated Press reports. Read more

OBAMA, ASSAD TURN TO TV TO MAKE THEIR CASES. President Obama and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are both looking to television to build their respective cases concerning a potential U.S. military strike against Syria, The New York Times reports. Obama is scheduled to appear on six major television networks tonight ahead of his Tuesday evening national address. In his first interview with an American news outlet since 2011, to air fully tonight on PBS, Assad told Charlie Rose that wars give the U.S. "no political gain, no economic gain, no good reputation" and that U.S. credibility is at an "all-time low." Fourteen more countries, meanwhile, have signed a statement condemning Syria for its chemical-weapons use. Read more

  • No matter the eventual outcome, Obama's decision to consult Congress before going ahead with military action in Syria is likely to create an important precedent in the often murky legal question of when presidents or nations may lawfully use military force, The New York Times' Charlie Savage writes. Read more

SYRIA CROWDING OUT OTHER ITEMS ON LEGISLATIVE AGENDA. The fall calendar for Congress is stacked, and once-prominent issues are getting crowded out by debates over military intervention in Syria and budget battles, Bloomberg reports. The amount of attention Syria is commanding could be killing the chances for other measures to get through Congress and become law. "Everything else is on the back burner," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. In particular, the immigration-reform push is losing steam and passage in 2014—an election year—appears unlikely. "Running out of time is a real issue," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. "Nothing is impossible, but it gets a heck of a lot more difficult if we don't get it done this year." Read more

  • White House efforts to corral Congress into authorizing force in Syria appear to not only be failing but are strengthening the opposition, Reuters' Fred Barbash writes. Read more

APPEALS COURT BEGINS HEARING ARGUMENTS FOR NET-NEUTRALITY CASE. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals began hearing oral arguments today in a "potential landmark" case that could decide important questions regarding how the U.S. regulates Internet traffic, Reuters reports. The case between Verizon and the Federal Communications Commission concerns the FCC's 2011 open Internet rules requiring Internet providers to treat all Web traffic as the same in a manner that gives consumers equal access to all lawful content. Verizon has argued such network-neutrality rules are "arbitrary and capricious" and violate the company's freedom of speech. Early signs suggest two members of the court's three-judge panel are sympathetic to Verizon's case. Read more

DE BLASIO HOLDS BIG LEAD IN POLL AHEAD OF TUESDAY'S MAYORAL PRIMARY. Two polls out today show New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio with a double-digit lead ahead of tomorrow's Democratic primary, Reuters reports. The separate polls find de Blasio, the city's public advocate, with the support of 39 percent and 36 percent of likely Democratic voters, but a failure to accrue at least 40 percent of the vote would require a runoff election between the two top vote-getters, a possibility the director of polling at Quinnipiac called "a coin flip." Former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, a veteran of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration, is expected to win the overshadowed GOP primary. Read more

  • With crime down and with fears of terrorism receding, voters are free to focus on issues such as income inequality and affordable housing—and it's why Bill de Blasio is the unlikely front-runner, National Journal's Matthew Cooper writes. Read more

HOW THE MILITARY'S 'BRO' CULTURE TURNS WOMEN INTO TARGETS. The military's sexual-assault epidemic is well-known—and it is not confined to high-profile cases like the sex-abuse educator discovered running a small-time prostitution ring at Fort Hood, Texas, or the Army sergeant charged with secretly videotaping female cadets in West Point bathrooms. Those scandals fueled the congressional and media frenzy over the 3,374 reported sexual assaults in the military last year, National Journal's Sara Sorcher reports. The Pentagon estimates that sexual assaults actually occur far more frequently—and that 26,000 troops were victims of unwanted sexual contact last year alone. Less understood is why the military's culture of abuse has been so hard to combat—let alone eradicate. Read more


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LABOR OFFICIALS PUSH FOR ACA FIXES AT AFL-CIO CONVENTION. Union leaders in Los Angeles for the AFL-CIO convention are working to draft a resolution articulating their concerns about the Affordable Care Act, The Hill reports. "We think we ought to have the conversation about Obamacare here. If not here, where? If not now, when?" said Terry O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America. Organized labor is worried about the effect the ACA will have on union members' health plans, known as multi-employer or Taft-Hartley plans, and it wants them to be considered qualified health plans eligible for tax subsidies. Currently, the Obama administration does not consider such plans eligible for subsidies. Read more


HOUSE PANEL TO CONSIDER MILITARY AUTHORIZATION. The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on "Proposed Authorization to Use Military Force in Syria" at 10 a.m. in 2118 Rayburn. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey are scheduled to testify.

CONGRESS HONORS VICTIMS OF 1963 BIRMINGHAM BOMBING. Congress will hold a Gold Medal Ceremony to honor the 1963 Birmingham bombing victims in Statuary Hall in the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are scheduled to participate.


"I believe that if we get Syria wrong, within six months—and you can quote me on this—there will be a war between Iran and Israel over their nuclear program." -- Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (U.S. News & World Report)


A BLACK MARKET FOR ADOPTED CHILDREN? Quita Puchalla, adopted from Liberia, was given to the Easons—a couple whom her adoptive parents had never met—using a power-of-attorney form, allowing them to bypass the vetting that goes into a legal adoption, Reuters' Megan Twohey reports, as part of a five-part series. Puchalla is part of an unknown number of "re-homed" adoptees, who, absent government oversight, can be vulnerable to abuse or fraudulent claims made by families. In Puchalla's case, the Easons faked their "home study" report and, unbeknownst to the Puchallas, both of Nicole Eason's biological children had earlier been removed from her custody. Twohey writes that re-homing "is a largely lawless marketplace. Often, the children are treated as chattel, and the needs of parents are put ahead of the welfare of the orphans they brought to America." One Yahoo group averaged a child advertised each week over a five-year period. Read more


TENS OF MILLIONS WILL REMAIN UNINSURED UNDER ACA. While the Affordable Care Act is projected to extend health care coverage to an additional 25 million Americans in the next decade, another 31 million will remain uninsured, The Washington Post reports. Their ranks will include undocumented persons and low-income residents of 21 states that have rejected Medicaid expansion. A thousand free clinics across the country "are redoubling efforts to help those bypassed by the law," including undocumented workers who are ineligible to purchase coverage on the ACA's exchanges. "Most of our members would love to go out of business and close their doors if there was a program that ended uninsurance," said Nicole Lamoureux Busby, executive director of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. "But this isn't universal health care. We're not planning to see a dramatic decrease in our patients." Read more


WHERE THE GRASS IS GREENEST FOR RECENT GRADS. Using data from economic research firm EMSI, The Atlantic Cities' Richard Florida set out to determine which cities offer the greatest employment opportunities for recent college graduates. He focused on the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas, which are home to 15.8 million jobs in fields that "require postsecondary education" and have experienced growth of at least 2 percent during 2013. "Looking at total job openings favors large metros with more people and more jobs," Florida writes, but using a "location quotient" to control for population size allows metro areas to be evaluated based on their "current concentration of these fast-growing, educated jobs relative to the national average." Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute mapped the data on total job openings, location quotients, and median hourly earnings. See it here


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Chock full of usable information on today's issues."

Michael, Executive Director

Concise coverage of everything I wish I had hours to read about."

Chuck, Graduate Student

The day's action in one quick read."

Stacy , Director of Communications

Great way to keep up with Washington"

Ray, Professor of Economics

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