OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Syria hits back burner after vote delay

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — which did vote last week on a resolution authorizing force in Syria — held separate meetings on Wednesday to plot out their next steps.

Senators had been drafting an update to the resolution to include the prospect of a diplomatic solution with Russia, but they said Wednesday that too was on hold.

“This is so fluid that we have to see how it evolves,” Menendez told reporters.

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Menendez and others who have supported the president on military action say that the threat of strikes brought Syria and Russia to the negotiating table. They’ve argued that the threat should remain as negotiations get underway.

“Keeping credible use of military force is very important, even as one considers the possibility of this diplomatic initiatives,” Menendez said.

But that didn’t mean a vote on the authorization was forthcoming

“We’re moving on to energy efficiency,” Corker said.

While senators in favor of military action argued that pursuing diplomacy could strengthen a vote on military action should the diplomatic route fail, it’s unclear whether lawmakers — particularly on the House side — would pass any authorization for military force.

While things slowed down on Capitol Hill with regard to Syria, they could heat back up on Thursday as Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet in Geneva. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council were meeting to talk Syria Wednesday evening.

Lawmakers noted that the delayed Syria vote could quickly be back on if things fall apart between Russia and the United States.

Syria reaction remains partisan: Reaction on Capitol Hill to President Obama's Syria speech unsurprisingly broke along partisan lines on Wednesday. >

Congressional Democrats praised the president's efforts to pursue a diplomatic solution to the U.S. standoff in Syria. 

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers ripped the White House for not articulating the clear national security threat posed by the country's chemical weapons stockpiles. 

“I hope that it works,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of the Syrian disarmament deal pitched by Russia.

“Our members were assured by the president's chief of staff that this [offer] — if it is serious, if it is credible, if it is real — will be given every consideration. And that's good news," she added Tuesday, after a briefing with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

Moscow floated the proposal Monday, which would have Syrian President Bashar Assad hand over his chemical weapons to international control. 

The plan was a significant break by Moscow from the country's long-standing support for the Assad regime, and if successful, it could thwart planned U.S. military action in Syria. 

But Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) ripped Obama for failing to draw a clear line between Assad's chemical arsenal and U.S. national security. 

"Our nation's credibility is on the line and [Syria] affects us regionally, relative to Iran and other things," according to Corker, who backs U.S. military action in Syria. 

"This administration makes it so hard to help them" on Syria and other national security issues, Corker said, citing the president's performance on Tuesday night. 

That said, "I hope we get lucky and end up with some diplomatic solution" to the Syrian crisis, he said. 

DOD, State beef up security for 9/11 anniversary: Defense and State Department counterparts beefed up security at American diplomatic outposts, in anticipation of possible strikes on the anniversary of 9/11. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with President Obama and other top national security officials on Tuesday to brief the White House on the Pentagon's counterterrorism plans for the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. 

Hagel ran down the details of the department's "worldwide security posture," including specifics on protective measures being taken at American embassies and consulates worldwide. 

The preparations come in the wake of last year's deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack, which took place during last year's anniversary of 9/11, ended with four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. 

The additional security measures allowed the State Department to keep U.S. outposts open during the 9/11 anniversary, despite rising tensions across the Middle East.

But the 9/11 anniversary was marked by violence in the Asia-Pacific region. 

On Tuesday, department officials issued an advisory to U.S. citizens and diplomats in the Philippines, after Islamic extremist groups launched a new round of attacks in the southern part of the country.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) pushed into Zamboanga City in the Mindanao province of southern Philippines, in an attempt to overrun government forces located there. 

Manila has shuttered the airport and closed access to the city, as Philippine military forces attempt to clear out MNLF fighters from the area, according to recent reports. 

"U.S. citizens in the Zamboanga City area should shelter in place to avoid becoming involved in the fighting or should follow any instructions from local authorities regarding evacuation," according to a department notice. 

Levin says Defense bill will be ‘cliffhanger’: The conflict in Syria and a crowded Senate calendar will lead to an end-of-year “cliffhanger,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Wednesday.

“It will probably end up closer to the end of the session than I’d like,” Levin said at a breakfast with reporters.

The Pentagon policy bill — which has passed for 51 straight years — always managed to get on the calendar, but it is frequently bumped until the waning days of the year, which is now looking likely again in 2013.

Levin said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told him it would come to the floor “as soon as possible,” but he would only say he was confident it would come up before the end of the year.

The Defense bill, which authorizes roughly $600 billion in spending, will be the vehicle for many contentious fights on the Senate floor through scores of amendments, including sequestration, Guantánamo and military sexual assault. Syria will also likely be the subject of multiple amendments.


In Case You Missed It: 

— McCain: Syria strike doesn't need Hill approval 

— Public opinion shouldn't sway Syria decision, says Levin

— U.S. postwar force in Afghanistan likely less than 10,000 troops

— Corker rips Obama speech on Syria 

— 9/11 attacks justify action in Syria, says Reid


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