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August 31, 2013

Congress will return to debate Syrian mission

President Barack Obama said Saturday that though the American military is ready to strike Syrian targets, he' first wants Congress to debate and vote on the mission.

"We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual," he said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden.

Obama has faced growing skepticism from American people and little support from Congress.

But most members have stopped short of outright opposition; they want more information and they want a say.

Continue reading "Congress will return to debate Syrian mission" »

August 30, 2013

Levin offers views on Syria

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman wants no military strike in Syria until United Nations inspectors are done.

“I again expressed my view that the United States should not undertake a kinetic strike before the U.N. inspectors complete their work, and that the impact of such a strike would be weakened if it does not have the participation and support of a large number of nations, including Arab nations," the Michigan Democrat said in a statement Friday.

"I also urged the Administration to send a powerful message to the Assad regime by immediately getting lethal aid to vetted elements of the Syrian opposition.  Doing so can change the balance militarily and also contribute to a political solution in Syria.”

Boehner wants more explanation, Feinstein hopes for "appropriate action" vs. Syria

Initial reaction among congressional leaders to Secretary of State John Kerry's explanation of administration Syria policy differed Friday, falling somewhat along partisan lines.

House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman said the president himself needs to explain to Congress and the American people more about the objectives, strategy and legal basis for military action. "We--and the American people--look forward to more answers from the White House," said Brendan Buck.

Among Democrats, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., backed Kerry.

“I listened carefully to what Secretary Kerry had to say and believe his remarks should stir the conscience of the world. He pointed out the high confidence our government has that this was a chemical weapons attack, that it was directed by the Assad regime and that it killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children," she said.

“The unclassified intelligence assessment released today tracks closely with briefings I have received over the past week. I agree with Secretary Kerry that the world cannot let such a heinous attack pass without a meaningful response, and I hope the international community will take appropriate action.”

Poll shows widespread opposition to U.S. military action vs. Syrian regime

The American public is not eager to see the United States take military action against the Syrian regime, according to a new NBC News poll released Friday.

Twenty-six percent favor military action, while 40 percent prefer humanitarian aid. Even when told the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, half said the U.S. should not take military action. But half also said they would support the use of cruise missiles launched from Navy ships aimed at destroying infrastructure.

Most of the data, though, showed opposition to military action. One third said such action was not in the U.S. national interest, compared to 21 percent who did.

And nearly one in five said the president should seek approval from Congress. Obama has consulted with congressional leaders, but lawmakers are not due to return to Washington until Sept. 9.

Read more here

August 29, 2013

Reactions to Syria briefing from Corker, Pelosi

Here are reactions from two key voices, following Thursday night's briefing on the Syria situation by Obama administration officials.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

"While I’m opposed to American boots on the ground in Syria, I would support surgical, proportional military strikes given the strong evidence of the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical warfare.  Whatever limited action is taken should not further commit the U.S. in Syria beyond the current strategy to strengthen the vetted, moderate opposition,” said Corker.

“While the administration has engaged in congressional consultation, they should continue to be forthcoming with information and would be far better off if they seek authorization based upon our national interests, which would provide the kind of public debate and legitimacy that can only come from Congress.”

Here's House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:

This evening's briefing was informative and beneficial.  For some of us, this was the third consultation with the Administration this week on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. 

"On the call, I agreed with Speaker Boehner and other Members who stated that there needs to be more consultation with all Members of Congress and additional transparency into the decision making process and timing, and that the case needs to be made to the American people.

Continue reading "Reactions to Syria briefing from Corker, Pelosi" »

Levin: "Increase the military pressure" with "lethal aid"

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said after talking with Obama administration officials on Syria that the U.S. and its allies should "increase the military pressure on the Assad regime by providing lethal aid to vetted elements of the Syrian opposition."

Here's some of the Michigan Democrat's statement:

"Tonight, I suggested that we should do so while UN inspectors complete their work and while we seek international support for limited, targeted strikes in response to the Assad regime’s large-scale use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.

" I appreciate the administration’s continuing efforts tonight to consult with Congress about the situation in Syria, and its commitment to further consultations with Congress."

Obama briefs Boehner, who wants more "communication with the American public"

President Barack Obama Thursday briefed House Speaker John Boehner on the Syria situation, and Boehner came away seeking more answers.

The Ohio Republican had sent Obama a lengthy letter Wednsday with several questions about potential military action against the Syrian regime. Among Boehner's concerns were the U.S. objectives and strategy.

Obama briefed Boehner Thursday, and a statement from Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said the speaker "sought answers to concerns outlined in his letter..."

But, Buck noted, "Only the president can answer these questions, and it is clear that further dialogue and consultation with Congress, as well as communication with the American public, will be needed."


August 28, 2013

"We stand ready to come back into session," say 116 House members

One hundred sixteen House of Representatives members are telling the White House in a letter they're ready to return to Washington to debate and discuss Syria.

The letter, circulated by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., says "We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict."

Signed by lawmakers in both parties, it explained "While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate – and the active engagement of Congress – prior to committing U.S. military assets.  Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution."

Read the letter here

Federal consumer agency to spread word on student loan forgiveness

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today reports that about 1 in 4 working Americans has a job in public service, and many of them qualify to have their federal direct student loans forgiven after 10 years. So it's starting to spread the word.

The federal bureau put out a toolkit today (find it here) that offers practical advice to public servants on their school loans. Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB, said in a press call today that the toolkit "advises that an early start can save you thousands of dollars. And it includes information like how to qualify for student loan benefits; how employees can certify their employees for certain programs; and how to make the most of existing payment programs."

Congress created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program in 2007 to encourage more people to enter teaching and other public service careers. Loans have to be paid on time monthly for 10 years before the rest is forgiven. The government offers income-based repayment plans, but Cordray noted today that for some borrowers, that still means loan payments for a long time _ "perhaps lasting until the time comes to consider how to pay for sending the next generation to college."

Boehner, in letter, wants answers from the White House on Syria

House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday wrote President Barack Obama a lengthy letter seeking detailed answers on the Syria mission, asking how military action will further U.S. objectives.


Here's his letter:

"I deeply respect your role as our country’s commander-in-chief, and I am mindful that Syria is one of the few places where the immediate national security interests of the United States so visibly converge with broader U.S. security interests and objectives.  Our nation’s response to the deterioration and atrocities in Syria has implications not just in Syria, but also for America’s credibility across the globe, especially in places like Iran.  

Even as the United States grapples with the alarming scale of the human suffering, we are immediately confronted with contemplating the potential scenarios our response might trigger or accelerate. These considerations include the Assad regime potentially losing command and control of its stock of chemical weapons or terrorist organizations – especially those tied to al Qaeda – gaining greater control of and maintaining territory.  How the United States responds also has a significant impact on the security and stability of U.S. allies in the region, which are struggling with the large exodus of Syrian refugees and the growing spillover of violence feeding off of ethnic and religious tensions.  The House of Representatives takes these interests and potential consequences seriously in weighing any potential U.S. and international response in Syria.

Since March of 2011, your policy has been to call for a stop to the violence in Syria and to advocate for a political transition to a more democratic form of government.  On August 18, 2012, you called for President Assad’s resignation, adding his removal as part of the official policy of the United States.   In addition, it has been the objective of the United States to prevent the use or transfer of chemical weapons.  I support these policies and publically agreed with you when you established your red line regarding the use or transfer of chemical weapons last August. 

Now, having again determined your red line has been crossed, should a decisive response involve the use of the United States military, it is essential that you provide a clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action – which is a means, not a policy – will secure U.S. objectives and how it fits into your overall policy.  I respectfully request that you, as our country’s commander-in-chief, personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy. In addition, it is essential you address on what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of Congressional authorization under Article I of the Constitution.

Continue reading "Boehner, in letter, wants answers from the White House on Syria" »


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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