Washington, DC - Continuing weeks of outreach to lawmakers on the issue, President Barack Obama on Sunday night joined Vice President Joe Biden at the Naval Observatory, ostensibly to pitch his plan for military intervention in Syria to six Republican Senators invited for dinner. The closed-press huddle lasted for close to 90 minutes, and came ahead of the President's prime-time address to the nation on Tuesday. (Above, the President's motorcade arrives at the Observatory)
"This evening, the president dropped by the dinner that the Vice President hosted for Republican Senators," the White House said in a statement on Sunday night.
The Commander in Chief arrived at the Naval Observatory at 7:10 PM by motorcade, and was met on the front steps by the Vice President.
The invited lawmakers were Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Susan Collins (R-ME); Saxby Chambliss (R-GA); Bob Corker (R-TN); Kelly Ayotte (R-NH); and Deb Fischer (R-NE), according to the White House, which did not list the meeting on the President's official daily schedule. Pool was held in a van on the grounds of the residence.
The dinner--"Italian food served family style," according to a White House official--also comes ahead of a Senate vote expected on the issue for this Wednesday, Sept. 11th, the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, and the one-year anniversary of the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi.
Corker, the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, co-authored a resolution calling for a limited military strike against the Assad regime, which was narrowly approved by the bipartisan panel on a vote of 10 to 7 last Wednesday.
Graham, an Air Force veteran, has argued passionately for military intervention, telling his constituents last week that if there is no US response, Iran will not believe America’s resolve to block it from developing nuclear weapons. He also warned that nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists could result in a bomb in Charleston Harbor. He last met with the President on Labor Day.
Chambliss and Ayotte also seem to be supporting the President's plan, but Collins and Fischer have expressed doubt over US involvement in Syria, and have publicly said the President needs to make his case.
Reports before the dinner said that more GOP Senators would be the Vice President's guests, including Roy Blunt (R-Mo), Dan Coats (R-Ind), John McCain (R-AZ), and John Thune (R-SD), but the White House did not list them as attendees.
Ahead of the dinner, on Sunday afternoon the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden also hosted a closed-press barbecue for members of the Cabinet and their families at the Naval Observatory. The White House did not say if any members of the Cabinet remained at the Vice President's residence during the dinner.
His mission accomplished, President Obama departed the Naval Observatory at 8:30 PM and was back at the White House by 9:41 PM. He returned from the G-20 Summit in Russia late on Friday night, where Syria was a primary topic of discussion.
The United States and other governments have accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of launching a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 on Damascus suburbs, saying it killed more than 1,400 citizens, including hundreds of children. Assad has denied that his forces were involved.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a use-of-force resolution on the Senate floor last Friday, setting up the expected Wednesday cloture vote to end debate and move to final passage. A vote in the House has not yet been scheduled.
Ahead of Tuesday's prime-time address, on Monday afternoon President Obama will tape interviews with anchors from ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as with PBS, CNN and Fox News, the White House announced on Saturday. The interviews, embargoed until 6:00 PM, will air tonight, and be with NBC's Brian Williams, ABC's Diane Sawyer, CBS's Scott Pelley, Fox's Chris Wallace, PBS's Gwen Ifill, and CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
The President and Vice President are also scheduled to meet with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in the Oval Office on Monday afternoon, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice will deliver a speech on Syria to the New America Foundation. She also is expected to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough appeared on five network shows on Sunday and is scheduled to meet with the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, part of more briefings scheduled with lawmakers.
Congress will vote to authorize military strikes, despite mounting Congressional opposition, McDonough predicted during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, waving off the increasingly vocal opposition and saying it is still "too early" to reach any conclusions.
"This resolution is going to pass after we work this," McDonough said.
Beating the drums...
President Obama used his Weekly Address on Saturday to preview Tuesday's address. Noting that "the American people are weary after a decade of war," the President said the "intervention" would not be "open ended."
"This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground. Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope--designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so," President Obama said.
"Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again; that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons. All of which would pose a serious threat to our national security."
The White House on Sept. 5th launched a dedicated page on its website devoted to Syria, and is also making the case for a military strike on social media, which has included posting photographics of President Obama on the official Twitter account, featuring pro-intervention rhetoric.
The President's Weekly Address:
Some of the Tweets posted on the @WhiteHouse Twitter account:
President Obama on the need to respond to the Assad regime's chemical weapons use in #Syria: http://t.co/nnA24wf42l, pic.twitter.com/tp51tjVmxV
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 5, 2013
It's time to hold the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons in #Syria —> http://t.co/h8Sf00OMvN pic.twitter.com/Bu3cpdN60U*Top photo tweeted by Charles Dharapak/AP, who wrote "Obama's motorcade arrives for dinner hosted by Biden for Republican senators."
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 9, 2013