The first congressional hearing on President Obama’s request for military force authorization in Syria comes tomorrow when Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The 2:30 p.m. hearing comes nearly a week before lawmakers are supposed to be back in session from the August recess, but many are already back in town to attend administration briefings.
Tuesday’s hearing will be open, but the Foreign Relations Committee holds another hearing Wednesday that will be closed-door.
Kerry will also testify in an open hearing Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at noon.
“The president’s proposed military response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime demands thorough and deliberate congressional consideration,” said chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.). “This hearing will allow for the administration to publicly make its case and explain its plans to Congress and the American people.”
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said yesterday’s classified briefing hosted by five administration officials was the first bicameral and bipartisan security briefing held since she came to Congress in 1991.
At the briefing lawmakers were shown a classified document, which they could not remove from the room, showing the chain of command demonstrating the likelihood that Assad gave the order to use sarin gas, along with other evidence including the trajectory of the chemical weapon from Assad’s territory to the rebel enclave, testimony from first responders and test results from victims that indicate sarin.
Norton also said they were told Iran and Hezbollah counseled Assad against using the chemical weapons. She added that administration officials couldn’t answer her questions about why Assad decided to use them now.
“Still troubling to me is the U.S. view that a brief strike will have a deterrent effect, presumably on the use of chemical weapons and that Assad, who has tons of chemical weapons, is unlikely to retaliate,” said Norton. “I am also concerned that the U.S. has only a slim coalition – Turkey, France and the U.S. – particularly considering that almost all nations have signed the chemical weapons treaty, including most in the Middle East.”
She added that the administration’s “broad language” in the resolution submitted to Congress on Saturday night “bothered many,” but anticipated changes to be made to the draft during committee markup.
Based on what she heard in the briefing though, Norton stressed that she expects administration pushback to any attempts to narrow the scope of the authorization too much. Officials in the briefing also reminded lawmakers that the president can go ahead without congressional authorization if he chooses to do so.
Both Democratic and Republican leaders have vowed that members will not be whipped to vote a certain way on the authorization.
Yet the veteran delegate said Obama has a long way to go to overcome not just usual partisanship but deep divides on the Syria issue within each caucus.
Norton’s office said she “believes that the president will have to count on the loyalty of Democrats to the president to bring many reluctant Democrats to authorize a strike.”