The Biggest Reactions to Obama’s Syria Address

Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria march to Capitol Hill from the White House in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros, Brian Resnick, Marina Koren and Matt Berman
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Matt Vasilogambros , Brian Resnick and Marina Koren Matt Berman
Sept. 10, 2013, 1:42 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama’s big na­tion­al ad­dress on Syr­ia to­night wasn’t aimed just at a deeply skep­tic­al Amer­ic­an pub­lic. It was also tar­geted to the mem­bers of Con­gress who could de­cide the fate of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions on Syr­ia, in­clud­ing the re­quest for an au­thor­iz­a­tion of force.

What those ac­tions could look like is totally in flux as of Tues­day af­ter­noon, with a new re­port from The Wall Street Journal that Syr­ia is not only ac­know­ledging it has chem­ic­al weapons for the first time, but also say­ing Syr­ia would tell the “United Na­tions, Rus­sia, and oth­ers” where they are loc­ated. This de­vel­op­ment comes a day after Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad de­clared to an Amer­ic­an audi­ence that his coun­try has nev­er used such weapons and re­fused to com­ment on wheth­er Syr­ia had a stock­pile.

With the White House privately start­ing to be­lieve it may not have the votes for an au­thor­iz­a­tion of force, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has spent some of the last day try­ing to win Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate sup­port for get­ting a new agree­ment through Con­gress, re­ports Na­tion­al Re­view‘s Robert Costa. That agree­ment could be pegged to the dip­lo­mat­ic pro­gress made over the last day, and it could be something we all hear more about to­night.

So far, Obama has giv­en many of his usu­al staunch op­pon­ents a good deal of face time to dis­cuss the pos­sib­il­it­ies on Syr­ia. Obama and Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden hos­ted a group of Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors — in­clud­ing Lind­sey Gra­ham, Kelly Ayotte, and Saxby Cham­b­liss — for din­ner (Itali­an was served) at the Nav­al Ob­ser­vat­ory on Sunday. And a half-dozen Re­pub­lic­an law­makers were gran­ted the at­ten­tion of White House Chief of Staff Denis Mc­Donough this week.

So how did some of the big names re­act to the pres­id­ent’s speech? Be­low are the names we’re look­ing out for. We’ll up­date this story as re­ac­tions come in.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

After the speech, the Sen­ate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence mem­ber said he would work with his col­leagues to draft a bi­par­tis­an res­ol­u­tion aimed at solv­ing the con­flict dip­lo­mat­ic­ally. He echoed Obama’s re­peated calls for pre­serving in­ter­na­tion­al norms on chem­ic­al war­fare: “This was an at­ro­city that has been banned by in­ter­na­tion­al agree­ment for al­most a cen­tury, and this con­duct de­serves strong in­ter­na­tion­al con­dem­na­tion.”

Sen. Tom Har­kin, D-Iowa

I am en­cour­aged by the ap­par­ent open­ing for a mul­ti­lat­er­al re­sponse to the crisis in #Syr­ia ht­tp://t.co/ZfRvcUN­lEi.

— Tom Har­kin (@Sen­at­orHar­kin) Septem­ber 11, 2013

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The chair­man of the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee has so far been “very, very wary” of ac­tion against Syr­ia. He also had a meet­ing with the pres­id­ent on Tues­day. He hasn’t com­men­ted on Tues­day’s ad­dress.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla.

He voted against a strike last week, but he hasn’t yet com­men­ted on Tues­day’s ad­dress.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Be­cause, well, also 2016. And the sen­at­or, who flir­ted with a Syr­ia fili­buster, gave a video re­sponse to the pres­id­ent’s ad­dress. Key quote: “If the vote oc­curs, I will vote no.”

He con­tin­ued on Twit­ter:

I wont vote to send my son, your son, or any­one’s daugh­ter to war un­less a com­pel­ling Amer­ic­an in­terest is present. #RandResponds

— Sen­at­or Rand Paul (@Sen­Rand­Paul) Septem­ber 11, 2013

Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz.

Mc­Cain, one of the prom­in­ent for­eign policy voices in the Re­pub­lic­an Party, sup­por­ted the au­thor­iz­a­tion of force in the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, all the while still not be­ing quite on board with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. On Tues­day, the sen­at­or noted he was “very skep­tic­al” of a chem­ic­al-weapons deal.

Mc­Cain and joined Sen. Lind­say Gra­ham to blast out a joint press re­lease soon after the speech. “We ap­pre­ci­ate the Pres­id­ent speak­ing dir­ectly to the Amer­ic­an people about the con­flict in Syr­ia,” they began. But the ap­pre­ci­ation ended about there.

We re­gret, however, that he did not speak more force­fully about the need to in­crease our mil­it­ary as­sist­ance to mod­er­ate op­pos­i­tion forces in Syr­ia, such as the Free Syr­i­an Army. We also re­gret that he did not lay out a clear­er plan to test the ser­i­ous­ness of the Rus­si­an and Syr­i­an pro­pos­al to trans­fer the As­sad re­gime’s chem­ic­al weapons to in­ter­na­tion­al cus­tody.

Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren, D-Mass.

Pro­gress­ive have praised War­ren for be­ing a strong voice on sev­er­al eco­nom­ic is­sues. But how does she stack up on for­eign policy? Does she stand by the pres­id­ent who has sup­por­ted her in re­cent years, or does she join oth­ers on the left in op­pos­ing ac­tion in Syr­ia, with the memory of Ir­aq still haunt­ing them? She has yet to com­ment on the speech.

Rep. Steve Is­rael, D-N.Y.

POTUS ap­pealed to people’s hearts. I hope it changes people’s minds. Also hope Rus­sia deal is real.

— Steve Is­rael (@Rep­Ste­veIs­rael) Septem­ber 11, 2013

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

Hav­ing joined Sens. Mc­Cain and Gra­ham on sev­er­al is­sues of for­eign af­fairs, it would sur­pris­ing if she sep­ar­ated from the two men on this is­sue. She was among the crowd dined by the pres­id­ent and vice pres­id­ent on Sunday. Late Tues­day, she took to Twit­ter:

POTUS gave impt speech to­night & I’ll con­tin­ue to ask tough Qs to en­sure US is act­ing in our na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­terests (1/3)

— Kelly Ayotte (@Kel­lyAyotte) Septem­ber 11, 2013

Am skep­tic­al of Putin & As­sad’s cred­ib­il­ity & the UN’s abil­ity to achieve this type of out­come (2/3)

— Kelly Ayotte (@Kel­lyAyotte) Septem­ber 11, 2013

But get­ting the As­sad re­gime to turn over chem­ic­al weapons to in­tl com­munity w/ veri­fic­a­tion would make the world safer (3/3)

— Kelly Ayotte (@Kel­lyAyotte) Septem­ber 11, 2013

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine

She was also at the din­ner at the vice pres­id­ent’s house. She’s a “lean no” right now. Does she change her mind after this latest round of pres­sure from the pres­id­ent?

Rep. Buck McK­eon, R-Cal­if.

The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair­man presided over a hear­ing with Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry, De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair­man Mar­tin De­mp­sey on Tues­day, where he asked them if the pres­id­ent is still plan­ning to ask Con­gress for an au­thor­iz­a­tion of force. Kerry’s an­swer — “We’re not ask­ing Con­gress not to vote” — didn’t clear things up. We have yet to see a speech re­ac­tion from him.

Rep. Mi­chael Mc­Caul, R-Texas.

The House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee chair­man has been op­posed to a strike on Syr­ia, and doesn’t buy in­to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s na­tion­al se­cur­ity ar­gu­ments.

Here’s what he stated Tues­day night:

Like all Amer­ic­ans, I am hope­ful a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion can be reached, however, I am skep­tic­al of any pro­pos­al proffered by the Rus­si­ans and doubt As­sad’s motives for agree­ing to this plan. A cred­ible threat of mil­it­ary force will have to re­main on the table if dip­lo­mat­ic ef­forts are to have any hope of suc­ceed­ing. Chem­ic­al weapons are only one of the many na­tion­al se­cur­ity threats we face in Syr­ia, and the Pres­id­ent still ur­gently needs to de­vel­op and ex­ecute a co­her­ent strategy to ad­dress all of those threats.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.

Al­though his Twit­ter feed sug­gests oth­er­wise, Amash re­mains un­de­cided on the res­ol­u­tion. The Michigan law­maker has live-tweeted a series of town-hall meet­ings on Syr­ia and retweeted fel­low House mem­bers who say they will vote no. After the speech, Amash char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally took to Twit­ter:

Pres Obama said noth­ing new in that speech. He simply re­stated un­per­suas­ive points we’ve heard in pub­lic state­ments & private brief­ings.

— Justin Amash (@repjusti­n­amash) Septem­ber 11, 2013

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