White House pressures CT lawmakers on Syria

Washington – As President Obama prepares to sell the nation on the need for military action against Syria with a prime-time address tonight (9 p.m. in the East), Connecticut lawmakers remain skeptical of the plan and at least one has embraced an alternative by Russia that would avoid the need for a U.S. airstrike.

The White House hoped the return of lawmakers to Washington this week would insulate them from constituents angered by the prospect of another armed conflict in the Middle East and make the lawmakers more receptive to administration plans for an attack on Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons.

“We will have the opportunity now with all the members of Congress here to make our case,” said  White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

But support in Congress for an airstrike continues to be ellusive, and a vote on a resolution authorizing the use of force scheduled in the Senate for Wednesday was postponed.

“I woudn’t say I’m confident,” about Congress’ willingness to approve a Syria resolution, President Obama told NBC News.

Several lawmakers, including Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, are embracing an idea suggested by Russia that Syria put its chemical weapons under international supervision and eventually be destroyed. That could offer a compromise that would avert a U.S. strike.

“These actions, combined with a continued and complete investigation by the United Nations Security Council into the atrocities committed by the Assad regime, would serve as an appropriate response,” Larson said in a statement.

Syria welcomed the Russian plan. So do an increasing number of U.S. allies, including Britain and France. 

But administration officials are skeptical of the proposal, and Obama said it had to be “taken with a grain of salt” and is worried that it is a stalling tactic.

Some say the vote on the Syria resolution scheduled for Wednesday was scrapped because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could not muster 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle to a final vote on the measure.

But Reid said Tuesday that he postponed the vote to give the administration time to consider the Russian plan. “The Senate should give these international discussions time to play out but not unlimited time,” he said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted against the Syria resolution when it was considered by that panel last week, and is likely to do so again when the resolution is considered by the full Senate.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D–Conn., said initially that a U.S. strike is needed to send President Bashar Assad, “a message.” But now Blumenthal says he’s undecided.

“In Connecticut, I heard views on all sides of this issue, often expressed passionately and eloquently, and I will consider them preeminently in my decision regarding the authorization of military force, which I expect to make in the next day or so,” Blumenthal said.

CT House members undecided

If support for a Syria resolution seems to be eroding in the Senate, things look grimmer in the House of Representatives, where opposition appears more intense.

All of Connecticut’s House members say they are undecided on the issue. Most, including Larson, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, and Jim Himes, D-4th District, received an earful at town halls from constituents opposed to President Obama’s plan to use force.

Pressure on senators

Obama telephoned Murphy, but was unable to convince him.

Blumenthal has had several phone calls from administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. But those administration officials were unable to secure Blumenthal’s vote.

Both Connecticut senators have participated in classified briefings with intelligence and defense officials.

In addition, Blumenthal attended a briefing Monday evening with Vice President Joe Biden.

Obama had plans to visit the weekly Senate Democratic and Republican lunches Tuesday to make a final pitch to lawmakers before he addresses the nation on prime time to try to sell his plan to the American public.

The White House turned to Congress after it failed to garner international support for its mission.

Yet the administration has consistently deflected all questions about what it would do if Congress fails to approve a resolution authorizing force.

“Right now we are focusing on getting it passed,” said Phillip Gordon, a Middle East specialist at the White House during a briefing on Syria Monday.

 

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