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Dylan Scott

Dylan Scott is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He previously reported for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., and the Las Vegas Sun. His work has been recognized with a 2013 American Society of Business Publication Editors award for Best Feature Series and a 2010 Associated Press Society of Ohio award for Best Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at dylan@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Dylan

Senators left a Tuesday afternoon meeting with few updates on how a new resolution regarding Syria was coming together.

The 45-minute meeting was held in Sen. John McCain's office. A Senate Democratic aide confirmed that Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Corker (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) were in attendance. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) attended, his office confirmed. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Carl Levin (D-MI) were also spotted leaving the meeting.

The senators gave little indication of how the meeting went. Menendez said only that the new resolution, being drafted to reflect the Syrian government's new willingness to surrender its chemical weapons, was "still a work in progress."

Schumer shooed reporters away while leaving with Coons.

"I think everybody is looking for ways to take (Syria) up on what they said they'd do," Levin told reporters. "It's too early to know whether they're serious or not."

As for timing, Corker told reporters earlier in the day that a Senate vote is "not going to happen this week."

The group of senators formulating a revised resolution on Syria that reflects the last day's events is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET, a Senate Democratic aide confirmed to TPM.

The new resolution would ask the United Nations to pass a resolution that says Bashar al-Assad's regime used chemical weapons and that U.N. investigators must go into Syria and secure the country's chemical weapons, according to Politico. If that did not happen, then the United States could order military strikes against the Syrian government.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the senators involved in drafting the new resolution, told reporters that the White House was being routinely consulted as the new language was being crafted.

Politico reported that the group included: John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Schumer, Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who had co-sponsored an earlier alternative resolution with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) when a military strike appeared imminent, also told reporters Tuesday that he had shared the previous draft -- which required Assad to disband his chemical weapons within 45 days to avoid a strike -- with the new group.

The Senate leaders of the defund Obamacare movement -- Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY) and Mike Lee (UT) -- remained steadfast Tuesday in their crusade to strip funding for the health care reform law, even though they acknowledged that the House GOP might have just eliminated their leverage in the fight.

Paul told TPM that the House GOP's plan, announced Tuesday morning, would effectively rob Republicans of any real leverage to defund the law. Though Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has attempted to portray the maneuver as forcing Senate Democrats to take a vote siding with the still unpopular law, the gambit would still allow the Senate to vote on a continuing resolution without defunding the government and without sending it back to House again for a second vote.

A conference is the only way that Obamacare could plausibly get defunded, Paul said. That's not going to happen with the House GOP's strategy.

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As Syria announced Tuesday morning that it would accept Russia's offer to hand over its chemical weapons, the White House and other proponents of U.S. strikes rushed to claim credit, arguing that the threat of military intervention brought the Assad regime to the negotiating table.

"In our view, the only reason this is now being seriously discussed by the Russians is because of the threat of U.S. military action," a senior administration official told TPM. "Were chemical weapons to be transferred into international control and ultimately destroyed, that would be a positive outcome. But, if this has any chance of happening, we need to have the threat of military action in our pocket."

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President Obama had to pull back on Syria. That's the initial reaction from Capitol Hill as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delayed a vote on authorization for military strikes in Syria and Obama signaled he was open to a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Multiple congressional aides conveyed that consenus to TPM on Monday evening, following a dramatic turn of events over the course of the day.

"I think this is the out the admininstration needs, to be honest, because the numbers aren't here in the House," a House Democratic aide told TPM.

For most of the day, the White House appeared unclear about whether to endorse or rebuke Secretary of State John Kerry's comments that the United States would be open to allowing Syria to disband its chemical weapons stockpile to avoid military strikes. The idea was first proposed by the Russian government Monday morning, although President Obama later said he had been discussing that possibility with the Russians for some time.

The president then indicated he was open to such a solution in evening interviews with major news outlets. Almost simultaneously, Reid reversed his plan to file cloture on the Senate's Syria resolution, which would have set up the first vote on the issue on Wednesday.

The whip counts on a Syria resolution have been increasingly pessimistic for the White House. The consensus from Hill aides, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that the administration must have seen the writing on the wall.

“I think the White House thinks they found a life raft," a House Republican aide concurred to TPM. "It’s not clear yet if they are right about that.”

The Congressional Progressive Caucus on Friday sent a list of 67 questions to the White House on the administration's proposed military intervention in Syria.

The questions, in a letter signed by the caucus's leadership, were sent prior to a Friday conference call between the White House and the CPC, the second of the week. They cover a broad range of topics, from the possible fallout of a strike for Israel to the budget costs of military action.

Sources close to the 76-member caucus have said that most of its members remain undecided. As TPM has reported, the House whip counts on authorization look challenging for the administration. The letter is below.

  Progressive Questions on Syria by tpmdocs

In a letter ciruclating the U.S. Capitol, the Syrian government makes its case to Congress about why they should stay out of the country's civil war.

The letter, obtained by TPM, is printed on the letterhead of the Syrian People's Assembly and signed by Mohammad Jihad al-Lahham, the assembly's speaker.

The letter presents the same arguments advanced publicly by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime the Obama administration alleges was behind the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus that killed more than 1,000 people. It asserts that the opposition groups are led by Islamic radicals and that the rebels were the ones responsible for the chemical weapons attack.

"We urge you not to rush into any irresponsible reckless action. You have the power and the responsibility today to convert the United States of America from the war track to the diplomatic path," the letter, dated Sept. 5, says. "We hope to meet there, and to talk, as civilised peoples should. We adopt a diplomatic solution, as we realize that war would be a bloody destructive catastrophic track, which does not have any benefit for all nations."

According to TPM's source, "most offices" on the Hill have received the memo. At least one other office confirmed to TPM that they had received the letter.

  Syrian Government Memo to Congress by tpmdocs

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said Monday that he would vote against the Senate's authorization for military action in Syria.

"I will vote 'no' because of too much uncertainty about what comes next. After Step A, what will be Steps B, C, D and E? I see too much risk that the strike will do more harm than good, by setting off a chain of consequences that could involve American fighting men and women in another long-term Middle East conflict," Alexander said in a speech in Nashville, according to the Commerical Appeal.

A Senate vote is expected this week. Follow TPM's whip count here.

The vote counts for congressional authorization for military strikes in Syria look grim, though that could change. But what if it doesn't? President Obama and his staff have consistently refused to say what the president would do if Congress were to deny his request for authorization to use force. If he decided to strike Bashar al-Assad's regime anyway -- something he has said is within his legal authority -- then the White House could turn to 1999 and the Clinton administration's handling of the war in Kosovo as a roadmap.

The facts don't line up identically, but they're close enough, some argue. President Clinton authorized air strikes in Kosovo in March 1999. A month later, the House took votes on a declaration of war and an authorization for the use of military force (i.e. what Congress is considering now) and rejected them both. But a month after that, the House passed a funding measure that kept money flowing for the Kosovo intervention.

"In short, and simplifying a bit, Congress declined to formally authorize Clinton's use of force in Kosovo, but it funded his efforts," Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor and former assistant U.S. attorney general, wrote on his blog last week.

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) said in a Monday statement that she does not support the current Senate authorization for military action in Syria.

“I still believe we need to have an open and honest discussion on the Senate floor about the potential use of force in Syria," Heitkamp said. "However, after all these meetings, I still have serious concerns.  I cannot support the current Senate resolution to authorize force at this time."

Heitkamp and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who also said he opposes the current resolution, are working on an alternative that would give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad 45 days to sign an international chemical weapons ban and begin turning over his regime's chemical weapons stockpile.

Follow TPM's ongoing Syria whip count here.

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