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Obama Dismisses 'Some Abstract Notion of Red Lines' in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets with a Russian parliamentary delegation in Damascus. (Mikhail Voskresenskiy/Sputnik via AP)

President Obama dismissed “some abstract notions of red lines” in defending his Syria policy in an interview aired on CBS this morning.

Anchor Charlie Rose asked Obama about the decision he made not to enforce the red line on the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad.

“Many look at that and say because you did not and you went over the opposition of some of your advisers, which is what a president is expected to do, make the hard choices, that what we have today, in part because of that decision, we have a devastated state,” Rose said. “We’ve had close to 500,000 people die.”

“I think there’s no doubt that there are many in the Middle East who would have preferred me taking a shot at Assad. But the reason is not because of some abstract notions of red lines. Assad is a horrible leader, a horrible dictator who has shattered his country. It continues to be our position that we need to get him out of there,” Obama replied.

Obama also defended his vow to veto a bill from Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) to allow families of 9/11 victims to sue countries that harbored or otherwise supported terrorists.

“This is not just a bilateral U.S.-Saudi issue. This is a matter of how generally the United States approaches our interactions with other countries,” he said. “If we open up the possibility that individuals in the United States can routinely start suing other governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries.”

Cornyn said on the Senate floor today that the Obama administration “has worked to undercut progress on this legislation at every turn.”

On Wednesday, Obama arrives in Riyadh to meet with King Salman.

“In light of his upcoming trip this week, it appears that the Obama administration is pulling out all the stops to keep this bill from moving forward before the president’s visit to Riyadh. I wish the president and his aides would spend as much time and energy working with us in a bipartisan manner as they have working against us, trying to prevent victims of terrorism from receiving the justice that they deserve,” Cornyn said.

“In a very real way, the president’s opposition to this bill looked like him asking the victims of 9/11 and their families to pay some of the political price for the president’s mishandling of our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” the senator continued.

“The good news is there is bipartisan support in this Chamber for those who will stand up for these victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and hold the people responsible accountable. …If the president wants to get in the way, he can veto the legislation, and we can override that veto. That’s the way the Constitution works.”

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill today, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said opposition is coming from some members of Congress as well as the White House.

“This didn’t come up when I was in Saudi Arabia, it’s not something we discussed,” Ryan said in reference to his recent trip to the Middle East. “But the White House, clearly, is going to send out a veto threat if they haven’t already, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

His personal feelings on the bill? “I think we need to look at it. I think we need to review it to make sure that we’re not making mistakes with our allies and that we’re not catching people in this that shouldn’t be caught up in this.”