Lawmakers Tack Toward Diplomacy on Syria

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander speaks to reporters in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, about his decision to oppose a limited military strike in Syria.  
National Journal
Billy House, Elahe Izadi, Stacy Kaper and Michael Catalini
Add to Briefcase
Billy House Elahe Izadi Stacy Kaper Michael Catalini
Sept. 10, 2013, 5:17 p.m.

Law­makers are mov­ing away from tak­ing a dif­fi­cult vote on au­thor­iz­ing the use of force in Syr­ia and ex­press­ing op­tim­ism — some­times cau­tiously — that a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion could re­place a U.S. mil­it­ary strike.

The dip­lo­mat­ic es­cape route be­ing paved by Pres­id­ent Obama, which in­volves Syr­ia sur­ren­der­ing its stock­pile of chem­ic­al weapons, was wel­comed Tues­day by sen­at­ors across the polit­ic­al spec­trum, in­clud­ing those who fa­vor a use-of-force res­ol­u­tion and those who op­pose it. Not­ably ab­sent were the shots at Obama that have char­ac­ter­ized so many con­gres­sion­al de­bates.

“Most of us ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that he asked our opin­ion and he got it, and now he’s tak­ing that ad­vice and shift­ing gears,” said Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der, R-Tenn. “We ought to re­spect the fact that he’s listen­ing to us and try­ing the dip­lo­mat­ic op­tion.”

Obama led sep­ar­ate, closed-door meet­ings with Sen­ate Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans hours be­fore his tele­vised ad­dress Tues­day, telling sen­at­ors that the threat of mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion is what pushed the As­sad re­gime and Rus­sia to come to the table to ne­go­ti­ate a solu­tion. In his ad­dress, Obama said he asked con­gres­sion­al lead­ers to post­pone a vote.

A timeline for what hap­pens next in the Sen­ate — and wheth­er Con­gress will vote on a re­vised res­ol­u­tion, re­flect­ing dip­lo­mat­ic ef­forts or the use of force — re­mains un­clear. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said that de­vel­op­ments, and not “some ar­ti­fi­cial timeline,” are driv­ing the Sen­ate sched­ule.

“We’re go­ing to con­tin­ue to work on mov­ing for­ward with this, but keep­ing pro­nounced — and I pro­nounce it now — that the cred­ible threat of our do­ing something about this at­tack is go­ing to re­main,” Re­id said.

What is clear is that any vote on the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee’s au­thor­iz­a­tion seems to be tabled. Re­id delayed a test vote Monday, and law­makers say an­oth­er vote on au­thor­iz­a­tion this week seems un­likely. Mean­while, House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are await­ing Sen­ate ac­tion be­fore de­term­in­ing their le­gis­lat­ive path.

“I think the le­gis­lat­ive piece is on hold at this point,” said Sen. Ro­ger Wick­er, R-Miss., who said he had planned to vote against the meas­ure. “The pres­id­ent has asked both houses to de­fer, and I think we will.”

While the ad­min­is­tra­tion is now clearly pur­su­ing a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion, de­tails of a po­ten­tial deal with Rus­sia and Syr­ia were scant. Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vl­ad­mir Putin said Tues­day that the United States needs to take mil­it­ary ac­tion off the table in or­der to ne­go­ti­ate a deal with Syr­ia, but sev­er­al law­makers re­main con­vinced that keep­ing a mil­it­ary op­tion on the table will be crit­ic­al.

“The fact that Putin wants you to re­move the threat is proof of the fact that only that threat makes this pos­sible for Syr­ia to give up their weapons without mil­it­ary ac­tion,” Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Carl Lev­in, D-Mich, said. “[Putin] is fo­cused on that. They’re ob­vi­ously wor­ried about that.”

Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee Chair­man Thomas Carp­er, D-Del., said “a ne­go­ti­ated solu­tion that gets chem­ic­al weapons out of Syr­ia with­in a very short peri­od of time ac­tu­ally en­hances the abil­ity of the pres­id­ent to garner votes to keep the threat of a mil­it­ary op­tion alive.”

Re­pub­lic­ans also kept an open mind about the pro­cess. “I’m cer­tainly will­ing not to bring the res­ol­u­tion to a vote at this point,” Wick­er said. “I think most people of good­will will hope light­ning can strike and a mir­acle will hap­pen, and Bashar As­sad will aban­don his chem­ic­al weapons.”

But skep­ti­cism still re­mains on the Hill re­gard­ing the cred­ib­il­ity of the Rus­si­ans and Syr­i­ans, des­pite Obama’s as­sur­ances that it was “tech­nic­ally pos­sible” for the Syr­i­ans to sur­render their chem­ic­al weapons.

“But it’s the Rus­si­ans, that’s the prob­lem,” Al­ex­an­der said, “and then it’s As­sad, that’s a big­ger prob­lem ac­tu­ally, so we’d have to have an agree­ment with the Rus­si­ans that we could veri­fy.”

Al­tern­at­ives to the use-of-force res­ol­u­tion draf­ted in com­mit­tee were already in the works late Tues­day, al­though it is un­clear wheth­er any will gain trac­tion.

Demo­crat­ic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota have pro­posed a meas­ure to give Syr­ia a 45-day win­dow to agree to give up its chem­ic­al weapons. An­oth­er group of Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., have been work­ing on re­vis­ing the ex­ist­ing res­ol­u­tion. “It is an ad­di­tion to the ex­ist­ing lan­guage that came out of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee,” Mc­Cain told re­port­ers. “It would provide spe­cif­ic guidelines and re­quire­ments for the re­mov­al, and pla­cing chem­ic­al weapons un­der in­ter­na­tion­al con­trol.”

Lev­in said he is work­ing on craft­ing lan­guage to the res­ol­u­tion that would con­di­tion the use of force on Syr­ia re­fus­ing to sur­render its chem­ic­al weapons. “I be­lieve that it is use­ful to con­nect the au­thor­iz­a­tion to a re­fus­al on the part of Syr­ia to dis­gorge their chem­ic­al weapons,” he told re­port­ers.

Lev­in said if dip­lomacy fails, he fa­vors back­ing up the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “red line” against the use of chem­ic­al weapons with mil­it­ary force.

“If the ef­fort fails polit­ic­ally, I think there has to be a re­sponse, be­cause you can­not not re­spond to what happened in Syr­ia un­less you are then go­ing to in­crease the risk that someday we are go­ing to face chem­ic­al weapons,” he said. “It is more likely that we will face chem­ic­al weapons here at home and that our troops will face chem­ic­al weapons on the bat­tle­field.”

In the House, some of Obama’s biggest sup­port­ers echoed the sen­ti­ment that a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion should be giv­en time.

House Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, D-Md., who like Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., has sup­por­ted the pres­id­ent’s re­quest for an au­thor­iz­a­tion to strike, said Tues­day that the al­tern­at­ive is “worth pur­su­ing.”

“Any such con­sid­er­a­tion needs to be ac­com­plished im­me­di­ately, and by im­me­di­ately, I mean with­in a doable time frame, and I’m talk­ing days and not weeks,” he said. “If it’s simply “¦ a rope-a-dope, a delay, try­ing to duck and bob and weave, then it ought to be re­jec­ted.”

“If it is a ser­i­ous of­fer that, in fact, can lead to veri­fi­able con­trol “¦ and with the ob­ject­ive of de­struc­tion of these chem­ic­al weapons, then it cer­tainly is a use­ful al­tern­at­ive to pur­sue,” Hoy­er said.

What We're Following See More »
NEVER TRUMP
USA Today Weighs in on Presidential Race for First Time Ever
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."

Source:
COMMISSIONERS NEED TO DELIBERATE MORE
FCC Pushes Vote on Set-Top Boxes
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Federal regulators on Thursday delayed a vote on a proposal to reshape the television market by freeing consumers from cable box rentals, putting into doubt a plan that has pitted technology companies against cable television providers. ... The proposal will still be considered for a future vote. But Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., said commissioners needed more discussions."

Source:
UNTIL DEC. 9, ANYWAY
Obama Signs Bill to Fund Government
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
REDSKINS IMPLICATIONS
SCOTUS to Hear Case on Offensive Trademarks
8 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The Supreme Court is taking up a First Amendment clash over the government’s refusal to register offensive trademarks, a case that could affect the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. The justices agreed Thursday to hear a dispute involving an Asian-American rock band called the Slants, but they did not act on a separate request to hear the higher-profile Redskins case at the same time." Still, any precedent set by the case could have ramifications for the Washington football team.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Bannon Still Collecting Royalties from ‘Seinfeld’
9 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at a little-known intersection of politics and entertainment, in which Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon is still raking in residuals from Seinfeld. Here's the digest version: When Seinfeld was in its infancy, Ted Turner was in the process of acquiring its production company, Castle Rock, but he was under-capitalized. Bannon's fledgling media company put up the remaining funds, and he agreed to "participation rights" instead of a fee. "Seinfeld has reaped more than $3 billion in its post-network afterlife through syndication deals." Meanwhile, Bannon is "still cashing checks from Seinfeld, and observers say he has made nearly 25 times more off the Castle Rock deal than he had anticipated."

Source:
×