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McCain, Graham express optimism on President Obama Syria plan

6:18 PM, Sep 2, 2013   |    comments
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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, accompanied by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks with reporters outside the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, following a closed-door meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss the situation with Syria. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

 

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham emerged from a Labor Day meeting with President Obama saying they had more confidence that the White House is developing a Syrian strategy they can support.

McCain and Graham are seen as key votes that Obama will need to win Senate approval for the United States to use military force in Syria. Obama on Saturday said he has concluded the United States should launch an attack in response to the Syrian government's apparent use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.

McCain and Graham are have jointly expressed concerns that a military strike should be part of a broader strategy in Syria, not simply a random attack to punish the regime.

After meeting with Obama Monday, they both said they believed the White House is developing a strategy that would degrade the military capabilities of the regime of President Bashar Assad and upgrade the capabilities of Syrian opposition forces - though they said Obama still have more work to do to explain this plan.

McCain of Arizona repeatedly said a congressional vote rejecting the use military force would be "catastrophic" to U.S interests and would destroy the credibility of the nation in the eyes of both allies and adversaries. Graham of South Carolina said "if we don't get Syria right, Iran is surely going to take the signals that we don;t care about their nuclear program . . . If we lost a vote in Congress dealing with the chemical weapons being used in Syria, what effect would that have on Iran and their nuclear program?"

The meeting with McCain and Graham was part of a major lobbying push by the White House.

House Democrats were briefed on a conference call by National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, are slated to conduct the briefing.

Kerry said Sunday the administration has more proof Syrian troops used the nerve agent sarin in the Aug. 21 attack that killed more than 1,400 people.

Administration officials also briefed members of Congress Sunday, but lawmakers in both parties have expressed some skepticism about the resolution proposed by the White House. Top Democrats said they believe the resolution will have to be narrowed to ensure that no American soldiers are sent into Syria.

Tuesday will be another busy day of lobbying for the White House. Obama will meet with chairs and ranking members from key national security committees, including the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and House Armed Services Committee.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will also conduct a hearing on the issue Tuesday afternoon in which Hagel, Kerry and Dempsey are expected to testify.

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