The House’s top two Republicans expressed support Tuesday for President Obama’s call for military action against Syria, while key Cabinet officials prepared to press the case for authorization of an attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., both made their support known after they joined other lawmakers in a meeting with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. Other lawmakers at the meeting included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and chairs of some congressional committees.
Boehner told reporters at the White House after the meeting that “only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated.”
“I appreciate the president reaching out to me and my colleagues in the Congress over the last couple of weeks. I also appreciate the president asking the Congress to support him in this action,” Boehner said. “This is something that the United States, as a country, needs to do. I’m going to support the president’s call for action. I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action.
Later, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel followed up the speaker’s comments with a statement that “everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the speaker expects the White House to provide answers to members’ questions and take the lead on any whipping effort.”
Cantor announced in a statement, “I intend to vote to provide the president of the United States the option to use military force in Syria.”
“While the authorizing language will likely change, the underlying reality will not,” said Cantor. “America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially by a terrorist state such as Syria, and to prevent further instability in a region of vital interest to the United States.”
Pelosi, who already has backed military action — and has even said she does not believe congressional authorization was necessary — told reporters outside the White House that she believes rank-and-file lawmakers will follow their leaders in support “based on the evidence, the intelligence, the national interest that is at stake.”
In his own remarks after meeting with the lawmakers, Obama again stressed to reporters that the military action he envisions is based on the “high confidence” his administration has that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons in an attack against his own people last month and that the U.S. action would be a “limited, proportional step.”
“It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan,” Obama said. He added that he was confident that Congress will authorize action, “so long as we are accomplishing what needs to be accomplished, which is to send a clear message to Assad degrading his capabilities to use chemical weapons.”
A Senate hearing later Tuesday could provide a gauge of how confident the administration should really be in getting congressional approva — a shift from what last week had initially seemed to be a determination to move ahead with a strike, regardless. Instead, the administration is engaged in an all-out blitz to make its case, not just to lawmakers but to the American public.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were set to appear Tuesday afternoon before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry and Hagel also are to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Other meetings are expected to be held throughout the week, some closed.
“I’m confident we’re going to be able to come up with something that hits the mark,” Obama said of the consultations with Congress.