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August 31, 2014

Posts in "Syria"

August 27, 2014

Armed Services Chairman Calls for Strategy to Combat ISIS

press010 022414 445x296 Armed Services Chairman Calls for Strategy to Combat ISIS

McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is calling for the president to consult Congress on the U.S. response to jihadists in Iraq and Syria. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More House lawmakers are warning President Barack Obama he needs to articulate a broader anti-terrorism strategy — and consult with Congress on that plan — before ramping up military action against anti-U.S. jihadists in northern Iraq and Syria.

Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif. is the most recent member to release such a statement after the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria executed American photojournalist James Foley last week.

“I challenge the President to engage Congress,” McKeon said in his statement Wednesday. “I’m willing to work with him.”

McKeon added, however, that while a plan to address ISIS’s growing power “may well require additional authorities from Congress … speculation about that before the President has even offered a strategy is putting the cart before the horse.”

Barack Obama, McKeon continued, “need[s] … to explain to the American people what is at stake, what our objectives are, and the strategy for how to achieve them. Only after we understand all this can we contemplate what new authorities might be needed.” Full story

December 30, 2013

The House Year in Review

This year, doing the business of the People’s House was, at best, a struggle. It’s well-known that 2013 was, legislatively, the least productive session in congressional history. Leaders strained to get to 218 — a majority in the 435-seat House (in case you had no idea where the blog name came from). And there were some pretty notable news stories as a result of all this congressional dysfunction.

But as painful as the year was for members, covering the House was a pleasure, one which we here at 218 only had the honor of doing for about half the year.

In that short time, 218 — or “Goppers,” as we were formerly known, which rhymes with “Whoppers,” for all you still wondering about that — had more than a few favorite stories.

Among the labors of love, there was a piece about the 10 Republicans who could one day be speaker, a story on an internal August playbook that went out to House Republicans telling them to profess how they were fighting Washington, and a piece (in response to his “calves the size of cantaloupes” comment) asking the question: How do you solve a problem like Steve King? Full story

September 19, 2013

Boehner Video Mocks Obama for Negotiating With Putin but Not GOP

Speaker John A. Boehner’s office released a roughly one-minute clip taking a couple of shots at President Barack Obama and illustrating what Republicans in Congress see as a hypocrisy: Obama will negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Syria, but he won’t negotiate with the GOP on the debt ceiling.

The video from the Ohio Republican strikes a sort of too-serious-to-be-funny, too-funny-to-be-serious tone, but it’s interesting political theater — especially when Putin reaches for and inspects what looks to be a cupcake.

While Syria has largely evaporated as an issue in Congress, Republicans apparently feel there are still political points to be won on the matter. And Republicans certainly feel there are political gains to be made in return for raising the debt ceiling.

The White House has repeatedly said it will not negotiate with Congress over paying the bills that it racked up. But Republicans are just as adamant that the White House does negotiate, and they believe Obama’s position is untenable.

House GOP leadership says it has more leverage with the debt ceiling than it does with the continuing resolution — noting polling opposing raising the debt ceiling — and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., laid out a plan Wednesday that would extend the debt limit for one year in return for a one-year delay to Obamacare, the Keystone XL pipeline and other items.

Whatever the end result, the White House and Congress will have to come up with a solution quickly. The U.S. Treasury Department says it will run out of borrowing authority sometime in mid-October.

September 12, 2013

Boehner ‘Insulted’ by Putin’s Op-Ed (Updated)

boehner091213 445x310 Boehner Insulted by Putins Op Ed (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 2:04 p.m. | What did Speaker John A. Boehner think of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times?

“I was insulted,” the Ohio Republican said.

At his Thursday morning news conference with reporters, Boehner reiterated that he had “real doubts about the motives” of the Russians, who earlier this week signaled their interest in facilitating the destruction of all of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile to avert an imminent U.S. military strike against the Syrian government and president Bashar al-Assad.

When asked for his thoughts about Putin’s contribution to The New York Times’ opinion pages, Boehner would not get into specifics.

“There are a lot of ways I could describe this, but it’s probably why I’ve suggested I have doubts about the motives of the Russians and Assad,” he said.

In the op-ed, Putin urged the United States to stand with Russia to work toward a peaceful resolution. Among other things, he argued that “there is every reason to believe [chemical weapons were] used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”

Putin also characterized the United States’ global image “not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan ‘you’re either with us or against us.’”

“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States,” Putin added.

Boehner has supported President Barack Obama in seeking possible military intervention in Syria, calling it an issue of humanitarianism and also in the interest of the nation’s national security.

Obama decided earlier this week to postpone the looming and increasingly unpopular vote in Congress on authorizing use of force while a possible deal with Russian and Syria is worked out.

“I hope a diplomatic solution can be found,” Boehner said.

Update 2:04 p.m.

When Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was asked about the Putin op-ed, she largely passed on commenting.

“It is what it is,” Pelosi said.

Pressed on whether she was frustrated that Putin was the United States’ negotiating partner, Pelosi once again restrained herself.

“It is who it is,” she said. “Assad is part of the negotiations, and he, I think, is clearly a monster.”

September 10, 2013

Fresh Faces Power Anti-War Wing

In a major shift from the hawkish foreign policy Congress rubber-stamped a decade ago, newer members of the House, weary of war and fresh from the town hall circuit, are more than three times as likely to oppose military action in Syria than their more senior colleagues.

House lawmakers first elected in 2010 or 2012 overwhelmingly oppose striking Syria, with 12 leaning toward supporting authorization and 103 lawmakers leaning or outrightly against it.

Of the lawmakers who have publicly stated a position on Syria, a recent House whip count from Firedoglake shows little support for intervention: 29 yes, 31 lean yes, 128 lean no, 105 no.

Lawmakers elected before 2010 are leaning against or opposed to action in Syria by a factor of 2.7 to 1. For members elected in the past two cycles, opposition to action in Syria is 8.5 to 1.

In the 2010 class, it’s 3 yes, 2 lean yes, 43 lean no, 22 no.
For the 2012 class, it’s 5 yes, 2 lean yes, 17 lean no, 21 no.

That’s a far cry from the Congress that overwhelmingly backed the Iraq War. And the newer members haven’t been following their leaders, whether it be Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or President Barack Obama.

“We’re reflective of a broader shift in public perception on foreign policy,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., told CQ Roll Call late last week.

“People have seen wars that have dragged on for more than a decade,” he said. “We’re tired of wars without end.”

It was 11 years ago, on Oct. 10, 2002, that 215 Republicans — all but eight — joined 85 Democrats to authorize the use of force in Iraq. At that time, according to a Pew Research Center poll, 62 percent of Americans supported military action to end Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Now, according to the latest CNN poll, more than 80 percent of the public says the Syrian government used chemical weapons, but just 39 percent of Americans support even a limited, no-boots-on-the-ground mission. And if you believe the lawmakers interviewed for this report, at least 90 percent of the constituents who have contacted them are against striking Syria.

Over the course of nearly a dozen interviews with freshman and sophomore lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats repeatedly expressed shifting convictions of the American public — and, correspondingly, a shift in the convictions of the lawmakers who were ushered into Congress to represent them.

The House is supposed to be the “people’s chamber,” where members are elected every two years to reflect the changing will of the public. But why, then, the differing levels of support among members who have spent less time in Washington?

The general answer from the junior lawmakers: They are more “constituent minded” than higher-ranking lawmakers. And the public does not want another war.

“They’re living in a D.C. echo chamber,” Amash said of his more senior colleagues. “If you’ve been here a longer amount of time, you’re not interacting with your constituents.”

Amash gave three reasons he thinks more senior members still support war: They don’t listen to their constituents, they are “tied to special interests,” and their voting record binds them to a foreign policy of yore.

Amash also theorized that longtime lawmakers (with “fatter bank accounts”) had stopped listening to constituents.

Amash said in 11 town halls he held last week — including one at a Burger King — “more than 95 percent” of the people he asked for a show of hands were against intervention in Syria.

And Amash has no qualms about following the wishes of his constituents on a matter as serious as war.

“Of all the issues out there, war is the one where you really need the public behind you, because you’re sending out their loved ones,” Amash said.

Indeed, sophomore Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., expressed a similar thought.

“It’s different when it comes to issues of war. It is not the president that goes to war, it’s not Congress; it’s the American people,” said Cicilline, who is leaning against authorization.

Freshman Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who first served in Congress from 1995 to 2001, said Congress has changed since his first stint.

“It’s not the same ‘go-along, get-along’ crowd,” Salmon said. ”A lot of the newer folks that have come in are very constitutionally minded.”

(Freshman Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., expressed nearly the same thought, saying, “You’ve got some really constitutionally minded people elected in the last two cycles.”)

Salmon said the public is “very, very cynical about any kind of war.” And he said the newer members are “a little more dubious” about following leadership.

“The longer you’re in the bubble, the more susceptible you are to the beltway jabber,” Salmon said.

Many members made the point that the difference between junior and senior members wasn’t exclusive to Syria.

“Some of it could be a shift in foreign policy, some of it could be that they represent their constituents more directly,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who was elected in 2012.

Massie cited three votes — on the Amash National Security Agency amendment, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act and the Marketplace Fairness Act (which has yet to receive a vote but has been whipped informally by Massie) — as evidence of his claim that more junior members of Congress are banding together, listening to their constituents and bucking leadership.

Using an extended sports metaphor, Massie said his junior colleagues “all want to be team players,” but leadership — otherwise known as the quarterback — is “calling the wrong plays, going the wrong direction.”

“It’s hard to tackle and block for a quarterback going in the wrong direction,” he said.

“Our leadership is asking us to vote in a way that can really come back to bite us in an election,” Massie said of the Syria resolution.

One sophomore lawmaker, who asked not to be identified as to speak more candidly about the shift, agreed that Syria was politically toxic. The lawmaker theorized that more junior colleagues opposed Syria more aggressively because they are more fearful of losing elections. Senior lawmakers tend to be more insulated from electoral considerations.

Indeed, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a veteran who supports intervention, worried that politics have crept into the decision-making process for members.

“Politics dissipates when you go overseas,” he said.

Kinzinger, who described himself as part of the “post-Iraq generation in Congress,” said that even though the American public seems to oppose intervention in Syria, “I wasn’t elected to not lead.”

Kinzinger suggested that outside groups, which he wouldn’t refer to by name, had had a hand in influencing newer members.

“Somehow Syria has become a purity vote,” he said, noting that there is a ”bit of an isolationist thought coming into our party.”

But freshman Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., suggested that the issue was not isolationism; the issue was Syria.

“While I’m a libertarian-leaning conservative, I’m not libertarian, I’m not an isolationist, I’m sure as hell not a dove,” Radel said. He went on to enumerate his concerns with Syria — concerns that echoed many members.

Radel did think, however, there was something unique about the freshman and sophomore members.

“A lot of us came from the private sector,” he said, “meaning we have not always done politics the way it has always been done.”

But while newer members may have a different, closer style of representation, Congress has long been about, as political scientist David Mayhew put it in his 1974 book, “the electoral connection.”

Another Florida lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, knows the lesson well. He was voted into Congress in 2008, voted out in 2010 and has returned for the 113th. He summed up a common thought.

“Recently elected members are well aware of the recent lessons of history. Maybe they,” he said, referring to his more senior colleagues, “haven’t learned it as intensely.”

Correction: 5:34 p.m.

An earlier version of this post misstated how long Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., has been in Congress. He is a sophomore.

Boehner Again Pushes Syria Authorization

Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday it’s Congress’ responsibility to support the president in matters of war and peace — in this case, military intervention in Syria.

“I’ve supported every president that I’ve served under for the last 23 years when it comes to the use of military force,” the Ohio Republican told reporters. “And there’s one person who speaks for the United States of America when it comes to foreign policy, and that’s the president of the United States. So I think it’s critically important that [when] the president goes out on behalf of the American people, members of Congress do everything they can to be supportive of him.

“Now I realize that a lot of mistakes have been made when it comes to this issue of Syria over the last few years, and frankly I understand how war-weary the American people are,” Boehner continued. “But having said all that, I believe it is important to try to help the president provide a unified front in our effort to make it clear that the use of chemical weapons is clearly unacceptable.”

Boehner, whose conference is at this point predominantly opposed to U.S. strikes, also said on Tuesday that he was “skeptical” of news that Russia was prepared to facilitate Syria’s surrender of chemical weapons stockpiles to avert the use of force.

“Clearly diplomacy is always a better outcome than military action. But I will say that I’m somewhat skeptical of those that are involved in the diplomatic discussions today,” Boehner said. “I’m skeptical of it because of the actors that are involved.”

By Emma Dumain Posted at 11:01 a.m.
John Boehner, Syria

September 9, 2013

Obama Lobbies CBC on Syria; Issa Cites Benghazi

President Barack Obama looked to shore up his base on Syria on Monday — personally wooing the Congressional Black Caucus for an hour — as his administration’s all-hands-on-deck lobbying effort efforts continued to struggle to get support from rank-and-file Republicans.

Obama will need most of the CBC on board to get to a majority despite the misgivings of many of their members over a new war in the Middle East.

“He was very frank with us,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and one who describes himself as still undecided. “I didn’t expect one meeting to win over votes. I think everyone’s looking forward to his speech [Tuesday] night, a major speech.”

As for whether Obama — who sat with CBC members for about an hour, according to Cummings — expressed frustration that the fate of the authorization resolution appeared to be in peril in both chambers, Cummings demurred.

“I think the president has already shown strength. He’s the one who’s shown strength. Hello? He’s shown strength. He’s the one who said, ‘let’s go in,’” Cummings said. “He will make the very best case that he can to the Congress and to the country and then it will be up to the Congress to vote.”

CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, sounded open to supporting the president after the meeting.

“President Obama has asked Members of Congress to authorize a military strike on Syria for violating international law in the use of chemical weapons by the government on its people; a request that requires each of us to thoroughly examine the evidence and exhaustively consider the consequences of military action,” she said in a statement. “I encourage Members of the Congressional Black Caucus to be extremely deliberate and thoughtful.”

The administration continued the hard sell at an all-member briefing at the Capitol on Monday — although few appeared to be swayed.

Of course, when Congress will vote remains in doubt, given Obama indicated a delay in votes after Russia proposed negotiating the Syrian government’s surrender of chemical weapons.

Cummings’ counterpart, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., described himself on Monday evening as “a firm ‘no.’”

Issa said he came out of the briefing with “less answers and more doubt.” Issa questioned some aspects of the intelligence being presented to members and used the opportunity before the microphones to cast doubt on National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who in her prior role as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was blamed by many Republicans for how she portrayed the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

“Additionally — not coincidentally, I guess — Ambassador Rice is in there and let’s understand that a week after Benghazi they were confident a video had caused the attack on our consulate and certainly wasn’t true,” Issa said.

Issa also expressed skepticism about Russia’s new willingness to help avert the need for military intervention: “If the Russians can in this case get weapons out of the hands of all parties, than that’s something we should work out … I think in fairness, Russia will continue to support the Assad administration no matter what they do.

“He’s still an evil man from an evil empire,” Issa added of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin.

Issa suggested that votes in the House and Senate to authorize force in Syria be delayed until stakeholders can see if developments in Russia come to fruition.

But that wasn’t something Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., necessarily supports.

“I personally think there’s value in accelerating the final details on the Russian proposal,” said Ellison. “We should put pressure on the Russian proposal to get finalized. I don’t think the Russian proposal has been made simply because they’ve gotten religion. I think they’ve realized their client is about to face some serious consequences.”

And there’s a “fair chance” that they made this proposal, Ellison added, just for the purposes of delaying U.S. intervention in Syria.

Ellison is in a key position as a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who supports the military force in the region. Many of the caucus members are in opposition, or are at least leaning toward opposition, and his co-chairman, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., has said he won’t support the authorizing resolution.

On Monday night, Ellison said he hadn’t made a decision yet whether to whip votes in the caucus, but that whatever happens he doesn’t expect it will fracture the cohesion of the CPC.

“I’m not really sweating the politics,” Ellison said. “We haven’t made any decision on how we’re going to move forward with this. We have 99 issues we agree on almost 100 percent all the time. This one thing is not gonna divide us.”

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters after the Monday night briefing that he was still against intervention — and that he still didn’t understand why Congress was involved now in the first place.

“It’s ridiculous they are putting the Congress through this. The White House should never have done this. They’re upping the pressure on the members and there’s no clear objective here as to what the strategy is,” Nunes said.

“The War Powers Act clearly says you should consult the Congress. You never go to Congress for authorization unless you are gonna go to war … I think there would have been people from both parties and the American people would have been upset [had Congress not been consulted] but for the most part when the nation goes to war most of us fall in line and try to support our men and women there in the battlefield.

“He would have had more sense, if he wanted to do a limited strike, to strike quickly and early,” Nunes continued. “Too much time has gone by.”

67 Questions (From Liberals) for Obama on Syria

ellison0909131 445x291 67 Questions (From Liberals) for Obama on Syria

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

While the co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus seem to be split on intervention in Syria, both agree on one thing: President Barack Obama has not answered all the questions.

The leaders of the CPC, Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, sent Obama 67 questions on a broad range of topics involving a potential U.S. military strike in Syria, including the national security threat posed by Syria, the evidence of a chemical attack in Syria, who will benefit from U.S. intervention, the temperature of the international community and the cost of a potential strike.

Ellison appears to support intervention, while Grijalva opposes it.

Ellison and Grijalva thanked Obama for making White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough available for questions, but said in their letter, “members of the Caucus have several follow up questions they were not able to ask on the calls.”

“The answers will weigh on Members as they cast their vote,” the CPC letter to Obama said. Full story

By Matt Fuller Posted at 11:38 a.m.

September 6, 2013

Cantor Sees Syria Vote Coming Within Two Weeks

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told lawmakers Friday to expect a vote authorizing the use of force in Syria “in the next two weeks” to kick off a busy fall agenda.

“Understanding that there are differing opinions on both sides of the aisle, it is up to President Obama to make the case to Congress and to the American people that this is the right course of action,” the Virginia Republican wrote in the internal GOP memo. “Members should expect a robust debate and vote on an authorization of use of military force pertaining to Syria in the next two weeks.”

While the memo — which covers the need to fund the government past Sept. 30, the debt limit, Syria, a nutrition bill, Obamacare and immigration, among other topics —  is not an exhaustive or definitive list of topics to be addressed, it does give House Republicans, and the public, a sense of what to expect over the next two months.

The short answer: a lot.

Here’s the long answer (full memo follows): Full story

Obama Needs to Sell Syria Strike to Americans, Say Boehner, Cantor

boehnercantor090613 445x296 Obama Needs to Sell Syria Strike to Americans, Say Boehner, Cantor

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Feeling the pressure of a Congress and a public that appears strongly opposed to a U.S. military strike against Syria, House GOP leaders are calling on President Barack Obama to make his case to the American people.

A spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner said Friday that the Ohio Republican has “consistently said the president has an obligation to make his case for intervention directly to the American people.” Boehner earlier this week came out in favor of intervention in Syria, in retaliation for that regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.

“Members of Congress represent the views of their constituents, and only a president can convince the public that military action is required,”  said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. “We only hope this isn’t coming too late to make the difference.”

Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have been left to fend off lawmakers and constituents who seem to want nothing to do with U.S. intervention in Syria. Already, unofficial whip counts show a majority of House lawmakers — and a majority of House Republicans — are opposed or are leaning against an authorization for the use of military force in Syria. Full story

September 5, 2013

Senate to Vote on Syria on … 9/11?

Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, told reporters Thursday that House leaders expect the Senate to vote on the Syria resolution on Sept. 11.

Reading an email off his phone from his chief of staff, Culberson indicated that Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., thinks the Senate will vote on the Syria resolution next Wednesday.

While the House may not always have the best idea of what is going on in the Senate, “Cantor expects the Senate to vote on 9/11,” Culberson said, parroting the guidance email. Full story

September 4, 2013

Foreign Affairs Chairman on the Fence on Syria

If the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee opposes authorizing military action in Syria, could a resolution still pass the House? We might soon find out the answer.

Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, who currently wields the gavel on the panel, signaled Wednesday that he might not yet be on board.

At his committee’s hearing on the issue, Royce said that striking Syria as a means of deterrence was “an important consideration,” but, as he put it, “there are concerns.”

“The president promises a military operation in Syria of limited scope and duration,” Royce said. “But the Assad regime would have a say in what happens next.” Full story

By Matt Fuller Posted at 5:14 p.m.

Benghazi Mention Sparks Fireworks in Syria Hearing

kerry090413 445x296 Benghazi Mention Sparks Fireworks in Syria Hearing

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Rep. Jeff Duncan traded microphone-rattling words Wednesday during the House Foreign Affairs hearing on intervention in Syria. But it wasn’t Syria that inspired such bad blood.

Duncan, a tea party Republican from South Carolina, was fired up about Benghazi, Libya, and took his opportunity to question Kerry as an opportunity to howl about the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

“This is a picture of Tyrone Woods,” Duncan said, holding up a roughly 4-inch-by-4-inch picture of Woods as a he fired a machine gun. “The Woods family deserves answers. He was killed in Benghazi. America deserves answers before we send another man or woman the caliber of Ty Woods into harm’s way. …

“The same administration that was seemingly so quick to involve the U.S. in Syria now was reluctant to use the same resources at its disposal to attempt to rescue to the four brave Americans that fought for their lives at Benghazi,” Duncan said.

Duncan said he did not doubt that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons, but he asked, “as the U.S. beats the drums of war,” where are the other countries signed on to the Geneva Protocol of 1925 against chemical weapons?

“I spoke to eighth-graders, about 150 eighth-graders yesterday — they get it! They get it that we shouldn’t be drug into someone else’s civil war where there are no good guys,” Duncan said forcefully.

Duncan then accused Kerry, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of a record of peace that was, somehow, lost with regard to Syria.

“Is the power of the executive branch so intoxicating that you would abandon past caution in favor for pulling the trigger on a military response so quickly?” Duncan asked.

The lecture prompted a sharp response from Kerry.

“Well, let me begin, Congressman, by challenging your proposition that I’ve never done anything except advocate caution, because I volunteered to fight for my country and that wasn’t a cautious thing to do when I did it,” said Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam War.

Duncan then tried to interrupt Kerry, but Kerry wasn’t having it.

“I’m going to finish, Congressman. I am going to finish,” Kerry said, careful to pronounce every word in his sentence with authority and clarity.

“I am not going to sit here and be told by you that I don’t have a sense of what the judgment is with respect to this,” Kerry said. “We’re talking about people being killed by gas and you want to go talk about Benghazi and ‘Fast and Furious.’”

“I absolutely want to talk about Benghazi,” Duncan interrupted Kerry, “because four Americans lost their lives! I have sympathy for the people in Syria. And I do think we should act cautiously …” Duncan said as Kerry cut him off.

“Yeah well, Congressman, we are acting cautiously!” Kerry said, as the two tried to talk over each other. “We are acting so cautiously that the president of the United States was accused of not acting because he wanted to have sufficient evidence and he wanted to build the case properly.”

Just then, Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., banged his gavel and said, “Off we go now.”

But before Royce could move to the next lawmaker, Kerry, a senator for 28 years, announced a “point of privilege” and said it was important to set the record straight about Duncan’s line of thought.

Kerry said this intervention would not include “boots on the ground,”

“This is not about getting into Syria’s civil war,” Kerry said. “This is about enforcing the principle that people shouldn’t be allowed to gas their citizens with impunity.”

“That’s what this is about,” Kerry said.

By Matt Fuller Posted at 4:11 p.m.

Kerry Wants ‘Trigger’ to Deter Syria Chemical Attacks

Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the administration wants a “trigger” that would authorize military action for 60 days each time President Bashar al-Assad’s regime uses chemical weapons.

“We would prefer that you would have some kind of trigger,” Kerry told the panel, in response to a question about resolution language from Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif.

Including a trigger would give the president the ability to respond swiftly to another use of chemical weapons without having to come back to Congress, and potentially be more of a deterrent to Assad. But it also could significantly lengthen the duration of an intervention.

Earlier in the hearing, Kerry told the panel that ”the world is wondering whether the United States of America is going to consent through silence, to stand aside while this kind of brutality is allowed to happen without consequence.”

As in the Senate, any resolution is going to stipulate that there be “no boots on the ground.”

Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., a proponent of intervention in Syria, said “the authorization measure we take up must clarify that any strike should be of a limited nature and that there should absolutely be no American boots on the ground in Syria.”

Kerry said, “We all agree there will be no American boots on the ground. The president has made crystal clear, we have no intention of assuming responsibility for Assad’s civil war.”

By Matt Fuller Posted at 2:02 p.m.

20 House Members to Watch on Syria

As the White House and congressional leaders woo votes to authorize military intervention in Syria, certain lawmakers serve as important bellwethers — and potentially critical components — to the math of 218.

Military action in Syria is, ultimately, a policy vote. But it is also, inescapably, a political one.

Voting against Syria could forever mar a Republican as soft on defense, just as voting for it could brand a Democrat a war hawk. And how members vote could play roles in leadership elections down the line. Elections could be won or lost and legacies built or dashed based on this vote — and lawmakers know it.

There are many votes that could be insightful gauges: Kosovo, Libya, perhaps even the fiscal cliff.

But the last time the White House and Republican and Democratic leadership were on the same side of a key vote was the National Security Agency amendment from Michigan Republican Justin Amash. The NSA amendment pitted libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats against establishment lawmakers concerned with national security. It came within seven votes of adoption.

It was also the first time a majority of Democrats sided against President Barack Obama on a national security issue. And, as one Democratic aide put it, Democrats learned that “the sky won’t fall” if they vote against Obama.

Another way to handicap the vote is by looking at individual legislators.

These 20 so-far-undecided House lawmakers are ones to watch: Full story

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