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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

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.

An alternative resolution regarding Syria, to be introduced Tuesday by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), calls on the Obama administration to seek diplomatic and legal routes for responding to the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, rather than pursuing military action.

"While I believe the Assad regime must be held accountable, I reject that it has to mean a military response to be effective," Lee wrote in a letter accompanying a draft of the resolution being circulated in the House. "There is no military solution to this complex civil war, and while a negotiated settlement is necessary, I do not believe military action will further that goal."

The resolution calls for increased humanitarian aid, increased sanctions against the Syrian government and the investigation of crimes against humanity that have allegedly been committed by the al-Assad regime. The full text is below.

  House Democrat Resolution Against Syria Action by tpmdocs

Oct. 1 is the date for the Obama administration. That's when the Affordable Care Act launches in earnest: People will be purchasing health insurance on the marketplaces created by the law, with tax subsides offered through the law. With three weeks to go, the administration and its partners in the states and the advocacy world are accelerating their campaign to inform Americans about Obamacare.

It's a three-fold act. Grassroots groups -- in a manner adapted from the Obama campaign's famously well-honed micro-targeted outreach -- are canvassing neighborhoods, taking the message to specific segments of the uninsured. President Bill Clinton gave a speech last week in Arkansas -- the first of many, as described to TPM by the White House, from both the former president and others -- trying to make the undeniably complicated law easier for people to understand.

And lastly, to fully complete the analogy with a campaign mentality, television ad buys are taking place all over the country, both from the administration and the individual state insurance marketplaces.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent Friday her fourth letter of the week to the Democratic caucus, updating them on the Obama administration's push for congressional authorization for military action in Syria.

Pelosi pointed to the White House's diplomatic efforts regarding Syria and noted that members could receive further briefings with administration officials "based on member requests." She also reminded caucus members that the classified intelligence reports on the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus are "available every day of the week for your review."

The text is below.

Dear Colleague,

 

As we continue our thoughtful conversation on the President’s request for Congressional authorization on Syria, a number of Members have suggested diplomatic efforts instead of a military strike.  These efforts are not mutually exclusive.  The Administration has been actively engaged in diplomacy and today, at a meeting of the G-20, released a Joint Statement on Syria by the leaders and representatives of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America calling for “a strong international response” and stating that:

 

“The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal.  The use of chemical weapons anywhere diminishes the security of people everywhere.  Left unchallenged, it increases the risk of further use and proliferation of these weapons.”

 

The full statement can be viewed here.

 

Many Members have said that the President needs to take his case to the American people.  The President announced today that he will again address the nation on Tuesday, September 10, which will allow him to make the intelligence case to the American people as to the Assad regime’s responsibility for the attack and why it’s in our national interest to respond to it. 

 

A number of Members have availed themselves of the briefings offered by the Administration.  As the House comes back into session next week, I also want to call your attention to the bipartisan classified briefing that will be held for all Members onMonday, September 9th at 5:00 p.m. in the CVC Auditorium.  Additionally, Chairman Becerra has planned two Caucus meetings next week: the first on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as well as an additional Caucus meeting on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.  Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Ruppersberger has encouraged you to read the classified intelligence report, which is available every day of the week for your review.  Administration officials have also been briefing various parts of our Caucus via conference call and stand ready to set up additional calls based on Member requests.   

 

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts as we continue this critical debate.  I have taken seriously both your public and private comments, and continue to pass them along to the White House. 

 

best regards,

 

 

NANCY PELOSI

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