With the United States edging closer to a possible military strike on Syria, President Barack Obama on Saturday ramped up efforts to convince skeptical American lawmakers and wary international partners of the need to act.
Obama’s top national security aides planned to hold the first of two days of weekend briefings for Congress. And the president and top aides were expected to continue consultations with foreign allies.
Senate Republicans and Democrats were to get separate briefings on Saturday. House members of both parties received an invitation to attend a members-only classified briefing at 2 p.m. ET Sunday.
It was not clear what the weekend sessions meant for the timing of a possible attack. Obama has signaled that he does not think he needs explicit congressional authorization to make war on Bashar Assad’s regime — but it seemed somewhat unlikely that the president would pull the trigger before the Sunday briefing.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral James Winnefeld, were to update Senators via an unclassified conference call "this afternoon," a senior administration official said.
The calls aimed “to continue the Administration's consultations regarding the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons in Syria on August 21,” the official told reporters by email.
House members were to get briefed on Sunday, according to a message from Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
“Please note, that if your Member is unable to participate that this will be one of many classified briefings. However, given the numerous requests made, the Speaker wanted Members to have an opportunity this weekend,” according to the message.
Boehner also invited representatives to review the Obama Administration’s classified intelligence finding that the Assad regime was behind an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.
Lawmakers were required to review the document in person in the offices of the House Intelligence Committee.
The briefings come after administration officials briefed House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee members on Friday.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office announced the Senate GOP briefing late Friday, saying it was being held at his request.
“Sen. McConnell believes it’s important for the whole Conference to have the opportunity to communicate directly with the administration on this important issue,” spokesman Don Stewart said in a statement.
The briefings came at a time when a growing chorus of lawmakers was insisting that Obama secure explicit congressional authorization for any military action against Assad’s regime in Damascus.
The White House repeatedly has said it will “consult” with Congress, but has made it clear Obama does not think he needs the green light from lawmakers.
The Republican Senate briefing was to occur at 1 p.m. Washington time. It was not immediately clear at what time Democrats were to get their briefing.