Lawmakers remained sharply divided Tuesday night over how tough to get with Syria despite President Obama’s major national address, leaving an open question as to whether the president could corral the votes for a military strike should he decide to take that route.
The president backed off the military option in his speech, saying he’s asked Congress to postpone a vote while he waits for Russia-backed diplomatic talks to play out.
Some, like Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., seemed to support Obama’s plans to give diplomacy a chance, while others blasted the president for an allegedly watered-down approach and criticized his inconsistencies on how to deal with Syria.
Paul, though, made clear he would not support military action if diplomacy fails.
“Some argue that American credibility is on the line, that because President Obama drew a red line with chemical weapons, America must act or lose credibility,” Paul said during a televised response following Obama’s address. “I would argue that America's credibility does not reside in one man.”
Paul chided the White House for not having a clearly defined mission in Syria and said the president has not ultimately made the case for military involvement – though Obama is trying to keep that option open.
“In fact, the Obama administration has specifically stated that ‘no military solution’ exists,” Paul said. “They have said the war will be ‘unbelievably small’ and limited. To me that sounds like they are pre-announcing that the military strikes will not punish Assad personally or effect regime change.”
In a joint statement following Obama’s speech, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., criticized the president for not speaking more forcefully about the need to increase U.S. military support to help rebel forces fighting against President Bashar Assad’s army.
"We also regret that (Obama) did not lay out a clearer plan to test the seriousness of the Russian and Syrian proposal to transfer the Assad regime's chemical weapons to international custody,” they said in a written statement.
That proposal calls for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control. Obama said Tuesday that this plan could avert the need for military action.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said that while he remains skeptical of Russia brokering an agreement with Syria over chemical weapons, he does agree that the White House should not act in haste.
The Republican National Committee, though, strongly came out against Obama’s alleged waffling and said his performance has damaged the country’s credibility on a global scale.
"The administration's handling of the U.S. response to Syria has been so haphazard it's disappointed even the president's most ardent supporters," Chairman Reince Priebus said. "This rudderless diplomacy has embarrassed America on the world stage. For a president who campaigned on building American credibility abroad, the lack of leadership coming from the Oval Office is astounding."
Others, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the president’s performance.
"The president using the credible threat of American military action to bring diplomatic solutions back to the table demonstrates the strength of his leadership and his willingness to exhaust every remedy before the use of force,” she said. "As the Obama administration continues to pursue a diplomatic resolution, the president justly made clear tonight that the threat of military action remains on the table as we continue to work to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, a pillar of our national security."
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he shared the president’s “outrage at the use of chemical weapons in Syria” and said he hopes a “verifiable, enforceable and timely diplomatic solution will be the American and world response to Syria's deplorable actions."