Obama Gets Some Support For Military Action In Syria

Sixteen party leaders and key committee figures from both the House and Senate met with President Obama at the White House on Tuesday. House Speaker John Boehner was among those who emerged to say they backed the idea of military intervention in Syria.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama received some important bipartisan support today. He met face to face with congressional leaders, as he continues his effort to convince Congress to support a military strike against Syria. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports the president is making some progress, even though the public is deeply skeptical of the mission.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The president took a big risk when he decided just three days ago to ask Congress for approval before he ordered military action. The public is deeply ambivalent about a strike. His own Democrats are leery of another armed conflict and Republicans in Congress have been inclined to oppose just about anything the president wants to do. It looked like an uphill, if not insurmountable, challenge.

Mr. Obama was told he needed to do a better job explaining the mission and today at the White House, surrounded by the bipartisan leadership of Congress, he tried to do just that.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan. This is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences.

LIASSON: To those who worry that a limited strike would not do enough to tip the balance in the Syrian civil war against the Assad regime, the president had a slightly different message.

OBAMA: It also fits into a broader strategy that we have to make sure that we can bring about, over time, the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic and economic and political pressure required, so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability not only to Syria, but to the region.

LIASSON: Today's White House meeting appears to have won Mr. Obama some surprising and badly needed bipartisan backing. First out the door when the meeting was over was Mr. Obama's chief congressional adversary, House Speaker John Boehner.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: I'm going to support the president's call for action. I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action. We have enemies around the world that need to understand that we're not going to tolerate this type of behavior. We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it's necessary.

LIASSON: Boehner's number two in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor is also supporting the president. So is the House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. In the Senate, the president can count on Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Senate minority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, who is locked in a tough reelection battle of his own, remains non-committal. After the White House meeting the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Bob Menendez spoke to those who worry that the president's military action will be too weak.

SENATOR BOB MENENDEZ: I think the president made it clear to us that he's not talking about a pinpoint strike. He's talking about a strike that has some teeth. He's talking about a strike that sends primarily the message that weapons of mass destruction, gassing your own people is unacceptable, but also a message that tells Assad that we're not just going to let him stay where he is and continue to wreak havoc and reign terror on his people.

LIASSON: The president has now received the personal support of some key congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle. But neither Boehner nor Pelosi said they would be whipping votes for the president, ordering their troops to fall in line. Instead, they said this would be a vote of conscience and it was up to the president in the few days left before Congress votes to convince a war weary public and its representatives that bombing Syria is the right thing to do.

In an indication of just how hard this will be, a new Pew poll taken over the weekend shows that by a 48 to 29 percent margin, Americans oppose conducting military airstrikes against Syria. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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