Lawmakers deeply divided on plan for military strikes

Senator John McCain wants broader steps but signaled he would back a strike.
Handout/Getty Images
Senator John McCain wants broader steps but signaled he would back a strike.

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress, deadlocked on just about everything these days and still on summer break, expressed sharply divergent opinions Sunday about whether to give President Obama the go-ahead he requested to retaliate with military force against the Assad regime.

Senior administration officials briefed lawmakers in private to explain why the United States is compelled to act against President Bashar Assad’s government in response to the Aug. 21 chemical attacks. Further classified meetings were planned over the next three days.

Dozens of members attended the two-hour classified briefing Sunday in the Capitol, though many emerged saying they needed to see more details of Obama’s plan and obtain more facts about the alleged chemical weapons attack. Many feared giving Obama overly broad authority for military action.


On the administration’s efforts to sell its strategy to Congress, Representative Bennie G. Thompson, the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said, ‘‘They have a ways to go.’’

Get Ground Game in your inbox:
Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

‘‘They also have work to do with respect to shoring up the facts of what happened,’’ Thompson said.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a leading Senate hawk and the candidate Obama defeated for the presidency in 2008, said he will discuss Syria with the president at the White House on Monday.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans a meeting Tuesday, according to its chairman, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey. The Senate Armed Service Committee will gather a day later, said Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the panel.

Congress will consider the matter when it gets back from its summer break Sept. 9.


An unusual congressional coalition of foreign policy isolationists, fiscal conservatives, and anti-interventionists in both parties opposes even limited action for fear that might draw the United States into another costly and even bloody confrontation.

‘‘Does a US attack make the situation better for the Syrian people or worse?’’ asked Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,’’ Inhofe predicted defeat for the president when the vote is held. But despite the intense gridlock in Congress over debt reduction, health care, immigration, and other issues, some lawmakers were more optimistic about the chances of consensus when it came to a question of national security.

Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, said he would vote ‘‘yes’’ and believed the president should be able to build a House majority over the next several days.

Polls show significant opposition among Americans to involvement, and several lawmakers have cited the faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that led up to President George W. Bush’s 2003 Iraq invasion as justification of the need for lengthy debate before US military action.