White House to Brief All Senators on Syria (Updated)
Posted at 9:41 p.m. on Aug. 30, 2013
Updated Aug. 31, 10:12 a.m. | Senior administration officials will hold separate unclassified briefings with Republican and Democratic senators on Syria Saturday afternoon.
A White House official said National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., were scheduled to participate.
A Senate aide said the call with Democrats was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. News of the Democratic call follows Friday night’s announcement of one with Republicans. A number of senators have already participated in conference call briefings on Syria, as the administration appears to be preparing for military action in response to the reported use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Those senators includes Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who released a statement Friday night:
Earlier today, I joined more than a dozen senators who serve on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees in an open and constructive 90-minute-long discussion with senior representatives from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and the intelligence community. I welcome the Administration’s active consultation with Congress and our nation’s allies as President Obama weighs a range of options for responding to the deadly chemical weapons attack in Damascus nine days ago that killed more than 1,400 civilians, including more than 400 children. The Administration has shared classified and unclassified reports today laying out detailed evidence that the Assad regime is solely responsible for the attack, which I am reviewing in detail and discussing with my colleagues in Congress.
The conference call with the GOP came at Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s request, his spokesman Don Stewart said in a statement late Friday.
“Sen. McConnell believes it’s important for the whole conference to have the opportunity to communicate directly with the administration on this important issue,” Stewart said in a statement emailed to reporters.
Republicans, as well as Democrats, have been split over whether the U.S. should take military action, with hawks including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., repeating their calls for major strikes aimed at shifting the balance of power in Syria and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., questioning the value of a strike and asserting that Congress has the sole authority to declare war. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., was the latest senator to push for Congress to cut short the August recess to vote on any possible military action.
McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have kept mum about what action should be taken.