Two senior Republican senators emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama on Monday warning that a vote against striking Syria would be disastrous.
“A rejection, a vote against that resolution by Congress, I think would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States and the president,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters outside the White House. He added that it would be difficult for Obama to decide to use force without receiving the blessing of Congress.
“If we lost a vote in the Congress dealing with the chemical weapons being used in Syria, what effect would that have on Iran?” asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
McCain and Graham were invited to the White House on Labor Day to discuss what it would take for them to help convince other lawmakers to support a military action. So far, most members of Congress have expressed doubts about the need to intervene in Syria’s civil war — even if government forces used deadly sarin gas against their own people, as the U.S. and other countries have alleged.
While both McCain and Graham support intervention, the senators said they need to be convinced that Obama has a long-term strategic plan for addressing the crisis in Syria.
Both senators have said that Obama should have acted sooner and should have done a better job of communicating the threat that inaction in Syria poses to the international community. And they said they are concerned that the president has now put forth a draft resolution that is too limited to be effective in the long term.
During a 20 minute exchange with reporters on the White House lawn, McCain said that “a weak response is almost as bad as doing nothing,” while Graham bluntly stated that Obama “has no one to blame but himself for the lack of public understanding about what’s at stake in Syria.”
“Sen. Graham and I are in agreement that now that a resolution is going to be before the Congress … we want to work to make that resolution something that the majority of both houses can support,” McCain acknowledged. “We had a candid exchange of views and … I think we have found some areas where we can work together but we have a long way to go.”
But there may not be much time: Congress is due back from recess the week of Sept. 9, and both House and Senate leaders have indicated they will hold votes on an authorization during that first week back.