Republican lawmakers — as expected — took to the airwaves on Sunday, eager to pounce on a Democratic president’s decision to allow Congress to debate and vote on whether to go to war in Syria. GOP lawmakers repeatedly demanded Barack Obama show them his “plan” and “strategy” for missile strikes or they would vote against U.S. military action.
But the real sign Obama and his administration face a steep climb to congressional approval came on Sunday from Democratic lawmakers.
They mostly rallied around their embattled commander in chief. But, a close look at their rhetoric on the Sunday morning political talk show circuit, Democrats made clear the White House will have to be more forthcoming about what it wants to achieve by lobbing tens of Tomahawk missiles into a sovereign Middle Eastern country — and how.
GOP Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” stressed Obama will have to spell out for lawmakers that “we … have a strategy and a plan.”
And, to the hawkish McCain, the right kind of plan would be “more than just” launching some “cruise missiles and that’s it.”
Obama on Saturday said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has assured him the limited-action plan the Pentagon has prepared is not “time-sensitive.” That means it can be enacted after Congress has voted — likely at least a week-and-a-half away.
McCain’s response on Sunday was essentially, “Um, no…”
“That’s a symbolic action. … The best way to eliminate the threat of Bashar Assad’s continued use of chemical weapons … would be the threat of his removal from power,” McCain said. “And that, I believe, has to be part of what we tell the American people.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said on the same program that Obama has to “come out and really be in-depth with respect to the intelligence that we know is out there.”
“He’s got to be in-depth with respect to what type of military action is going to be taken and what is our current strategy and how is this military strike impact that particular strategy,” said Chambliss, who recently golfed with Obama.
To be sure, any savvy political observer would expect Republican lawmakers to use a surprising reversal-of-course by a Democratic president they have so reviled as a political sledgehammer. At best, one would expect them to make such a president work hard for their vote.
But GOP members aren’t alone in wanting more details about what the Obama administration hopes to achieve by striking Syria and how officials intend to go about it.
“I think the president has to work diligently, not just the president but his whole Cabinet, to convince not just the Congress but the American people that this is in the interest of the United States, not just simply in the interest of another country,” Senate Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a loyal Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
And calling himself “a skeptic,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on “Meet the Press” that Obama has yet to make clear to lawmakers that “a U.S. attack [would] make the situation better for the Syrian people.”
What’s more, Murphy says the White House needs to explain between now the time both chambers vote that a limited mission featuring solely cruise missile strikes don’t “escalate into something more damaging.”