OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Chemical weapons spark calls for action

They warned that if Obama did not act on his vow that chemical weapons would be a “game changer,” Assad might be compelled to escalate the use of the weapons.

“If Assad sees any equivocation on the 'red line,' it will embolden his regime,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

“It is clear that ‘red lines’ have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger-scale use,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

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Lawmakers said they were not calling for “boots on the ground,” but many did endorse the creation of a no-fly zone and providing arms to vetted rebel groups.

The White House said that all options are still on the table, but also raised a previous U.S. conflict in the Middle East — the war in Iraq — as a reason to be sure before taking any military action.

The White House invoked the intelligence failures leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion — which came on the same day that former President George W. Bush was back in the news for the dedication of his presidential library.

“Given our own history with intelligence assessments — including intelligence assessments related to weapons of mass destruction — it's very important that we are able to establish this with certainty, and that we are able to present information that is airtight,” the White House official said.

Lawmakers divided on action in Syria: The chemical weapons report prompted renewed calls for militarily action in Syria from lawmakers in both parties, but some warned against getting involved.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said it was time to create a safe zone for the rebels and establish a no-fly zone, steps they’ve long called for. Others were less clear about what actions should be taken, but said that if chemical weapons were used, something had to be done.

"It's up to the commander in chief, but something has to be done,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

Some warned of the consequences of taking military action, including Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

“I am not convinced that military action is appropriate at this time,” Smith said in a statement. “There is no evidence that U.S. military action will achieve anything, except cost American lives and treasure. As we respond, we must remember the lessons we have learned from the war in Iraq.”

Boston bombers targeted New York: The two brothers suspected in last week's bombing of the Boston Marathon were also plotting attacks in New York City, federal investigators said Thursday. 

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was charged Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill three people and injure more than 200 during the Boston attack. 

His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died after a violent shootout with federal agents and local police last Friday.

The surviving Tsarnaev told federal investigators the brothers planned more bombings in Times Square and elsewhere in New York City after the attacks in Boston, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters. 

"He told the FBI apparently that he and his brother had ... built these additional explosives, and we know they had the capacity to carry out the attacks," he said. 

News of the New York attacks comes amid accusations of intelligence shortfalls between U.S. national security agencies that may have led to missed intelligence on the Boston bombings. 

"I have no idea who bears the blame. I just know the system is broken," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday. 

Reports claiming the older Tsarnaev was placed on a terrorism watch list at the request of the CIA a year before the attacks was a glaring example of the United States "going backward" in being able to prevent terrorist attacks, he said. 

“That’s system failure, 12 years after 9/11," Graham added. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called for Congress to show "some self-restraint" and not to leap to any conclusions about possible missed intelligence until the FBI has completed its investigation. 

"The facts change day to day" in the Boston case, she said, but federal investigators remain "committed" to finding out whether law enforcement or intelligence agencies dropped the ball on vital information on the attacks. 

House Armed Services panel sets markup: The House and Senate Armed Services committees are planning to have their versions of the fiscal 2014 Defense authorization bill wrapped up by mid-June. 

House Armed Services Committee members will draft their version of the budget blueprint on June 5, the committee announced Thursday. Their Senate counterparts will begin work on their version less than a week later, on June 12. 

Both markup dates are well after the traditional deadline of Memorial Day to have each version of the defense bill finished. 

On June 11, Senate defense lawmakers on the Airland, Personnel, Strategic Forces, Emerging Threats and Capabilities and Readiness and Management Support subcommittees will finalize their versions of the bill. 

The following day, members of the Senate Seapower subcommittee will mark up their legislation before moving onto the full committee mark.  

House members will try to knock out subcommittee markups for Strategic Forces, Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Seapower and Projection Forces and Military Personnel on May 22. 

House Tactical Air and Land Forces and Readiness subpanels finalize their spending blueprints on May 22.  

Three of the Senate subpanel markups will be open to the public, while the rest will be closed. All of the House mark is open.


In Case You Missed It:

— Boehner: Obama risks emboldening Assad

— Cantor urges attendance at Syria briefing

— McCain: White House doesn’t want to intervene

— Lawmakers press Obama on VA backlog


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