WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) — President Barack Obama hosted multiple congressional leaders Tuesday to make the case for a missile strike on Syria.
As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, Obama hosted six ranking congressional committees at the White House, as well as Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
“So long as we’re accomplishing what needs to be accomplished, which is to send a clear message to Assad degrading his capabilities to use chemical weapons — not just now but also in the future — as long as the authorization allows us to do that, I’m confident we’ll be able to come up with something that hits that mark,” Obama said.
The White House said the U.S. needs to strike Syrian targets to prevent another chemical weapons attack, like the alleged one that left more than 1,400 people dead on Aug. 21. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied he ordered the attack.
The meetings come as the United Nations reports the number of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria for neighboring nations has surged past 2 million.
In urging congressional leaders to pass the resolution authorizing a military strike on Syria, Obama has a pair of unlikely allies on his side, including the U.S. senator who ran against him for president five years ago.
While Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) previously called a rejection of a resolution for a strike “catastrophic,” he said Tuesday that he would support the president’s request to intervene in Syria only if the move would reverse the situation on the battlefield.
“It’s not that I don’t trust the word of the president,” McCain said. “It’s just that I need to see the concrete measures that are going to be taken, and if we don’t take those concrete measures and if the resolution doesn’t allow, it then, obviously, I can’t support it.”
McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) left a meeting at the White House on Monday, at which point both pledged to marshal support from their congressional colleagues.
“There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan,” Graham said.
Congress held its first public hearing Tuesday as lawmakers decide whether to back the president’s plan.
“President Obama is not asking to go to war,” Kerry said.
Kerry, along with the Joint Chiefs chairman and defense secretary, went in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make the case to hit Syria for its use of chemical weapons.
“It happened, and Assad did it,” Kerry said.
“We will be much more effective. We will be stronger if we take action. This is not Iraq, this is not Afghanistan,” Obama said.
The president is seeing some bi-partisan support.
“I’m going to support the president’s call for action. I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action,” Boehner said.
But for others an attack on Syria, even a limited one, is a tough sell.
“The strike is not going to accomplish anything useful. It is not our problem. It is very expensive and it’s dangerous,” Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said.
Despite the administration’s assertions, the president appears to have a lot of work to do to convince war-weary lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“We need to know what the consequences are going to be in that region,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.)
“What we’re trying to work through is what would happen,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “And I just want to make it clear, I’m very concerned.”
At the heart of the issue is whether the Syrian government is behind chemical attacks that left hundreds of civilians dead — including children.
As the world waits for the United Nations inspectors’ report, government leaders say a decision to attack would be a risky gamble.
“What happens next is a dangerous situation,” said Syria deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad. “The United States can decide when they will fire, but they cannot control what will happen later.”
Congressional leaders said they are planning to take up the debate on the strike as early as Monday, when the entire Congress returns from summer recess.
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