Kerry, Hagel will press Senate to back Obama on Syrian action

Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Tuesday will ask the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to back President Obama’s request for congressional authorization to strike Syria.

Kerry will follow that up on Wednesday at a hearing with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He will also hold a classified briefing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

The announced testimony of the Cabinet officials — both of whom previously sat on the committee — came as the contours of Obama's “flood the zone” offensive on Syria came into sharper focus.

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Top administration officials have scheduled a series of meetings and briefings to make the White House's case for limited military strikes on Syria.

The White House hopes that the efforts will be able to rally a reluctant Congress around a limited response to what it contends was a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs that killed at least 1,429 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children.

They will argue that letting the chemical weapons attack go unchallenged would irreparably damage American authority throughout the world and hurt U.S. allies, including Israel.

“In all calls and briefings, we will be making the same fundamental case: The failure to take action against Assad unravels the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use, and it risks emboldening Assad and his key allies – Hezbollah and Iran – who will see that there are no consequences for such a flagrant violation of an international norm,” said one White House official.

With plans to travel to Sweden Tuesday night, Obama worked through the Labor Day holiday, booking a meeting with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the afternoon at the White House. The top Republicans are seen as crucial to winning over the Senate but remain ruffled that Obama is not pursuing a more aggressive strategy.

“It can't just be, in my view, pinprick cruise missiles,” McCain told CBS News on Sunday.

Obama, Vice President Biden, and chief of staff Denis McDonough spent the holiday placing individual calls to House and Senate members, according to a White House official. That effort is expected to continue throughout the coming week.

On Tuesday, Obama will meet with the chairmen and ranking members from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and House Armed Services Committee at the White House before he departs for Sweden in the evening.

Top administration officials are also making their case in a series of classified and unclassified briefings throughout the week.

The White House held an unclassified conference call for the House Democratic Caucus on Monday morning, with Kerry and Hagel joined by National Security Adviser Susan Rice; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; and Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Administration officials say they expect "a large majority" of House Democrats on the call.

There will also be a series of members-only classified briefings by the administration on Capitol Hill starting Tuesday. While it is not yet clear who from the administration will conduct the top secret briefings, meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and the following Monday.

The administration hopes this full-court press will sway lawmakers still on the fence and demonstrate White House responsiveness to Congress.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations panel, said in a statement Monday that Obama must “immediately use every resource appropriate in making his case to the public before this potentially defining vote in Congress.”

“The American people deserve to hear more from the administration about why military action in Syria is necessary, what it will achieve and how it will be sufficiently limited to keep the U.S. from being drawn further into the Syrian conflict,” he said.

— This story was posted at 12:01 p.m. and updated at 1:10 p.m.

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