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Posts tagged ‘Denis McDonough’

Ryan, Republicans Blame Obama for Stalling Immigration.

Republicans are starting to lay the blame on President Barack Obama if an overhaul of the nation’s broken immigration system fails to become law.

The GOP’s emerging plan on immigration is to criticize Obama as an untrustworthy leader and his administration as an unreliable enforcer of any laws that might be passed. Perhaps realizing the odds of finding a consensus on immigration are long, the Republicans have started telling voters that if the GOP-led House doesn’t take action this election year, it is Obama’s fault.

“If the president had been serious about this the last five years, we’d be further along in this discussion,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, said Sunday.

House Republicans last week unveiled a road map for an overhaul of the nation’s broken immigration system that calls for increased border security, better law enforcement within the U.S. and a pathway to legal status — but not citizenship — for millions of adults who live in America unlawfully. The proposal requires those here illegally to pay back taxes and fines.

But one of its backers, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, said distrust of Obama poisons interest among some in his Republican caucus.

“Here’s the issue that all Republicans agree on: We don’t trust the president to enforce the law,” said Ryan, his party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012.

Ryan said a plan that puts security first could only pass the House if lawmakers believe the administration would enforce it — an unlikely prospect given Republicans’ deep opposition to Obama. The president’s waivers for provisions in his 4-year-old health care law have increased suspicions among Republicans.

“This isn’t a trust-but-verify, this is a verify-then-trust approach,” Ryan said.

Asked whether immigration legislation would make its way to Obama for him to sign into law, Ryan said he was skeptical: “I really don’t know the answer to that question. That is clearly in doubt.”

The Senate last year passed a comprehensive, bipartisan bill that addressed border security, provided enforcement measures and offered a long and difficult path to citizenship for those living here illegally. The measure stalled in the GOP-led House, where leaders want to take a more piecemeal approach.

In the meantime, Republicans have started uniting behind a message that Obama won’t hold up his end of the bargain.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said “there’s a lot of distrust of this administration in implanting the law.” And Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., last week warned that distrust of Obama would trump the desire to find a solution for the estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally.

“We just don’t think government will enforce the law anyway,” Rubio said, recounting conversations he’s had with fellow Republicans.

Immigration legislation is a dicey political question for the GOP. The party’s conservative base opposes any measure that would create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally, but many in the party worry that failing to act could strengthen support among many voters for Democratic candidates.

In 2012, Obama won re-election with the backing of 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 73 percent of Asian voters. The issue is important to both voting blocs.

The White House, meanwhile, is trying to give Republicans a chance to hammer out their intra-party differences in the hopes they find a way to give legal standing to those here illegally.

“We ought to see a pathway to citizenship for people,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday. “We don’t want to have a permanent separation of classes or two permanent different classes of Americans in this country.”

McDonough said the White House remains optimistic that legislation that includes citizenship could reach the president’s desk: “We feel pretty good that we’ll get a bill done this year.”

Jindal spoke to CNN’s “State of the Union.” Ryan appeared on ABC’s “This Week.” Cantor was interviewed on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” McDonough appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CBS.


© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

State of Union Not Good: Poll Finds Most Disapprove of Obama’s Leadership.

Image: State of Union Not Good: Poll Finds Most Disapprove of Obama's Leadership

By Melissa Clyne

In the throes of record disapproval ratings and a blanket lack of confidence by Americans, President Barack Obama will attempt to turn the tide tonight when he delivers his sixth State of the Union address.

But doing so could be a Herculean task based on the results of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Tuesday that found negative ratings in everything from the economy to the job performance of the president and Congress.

Urgent: Do You Approve or Disapprove of President Obama’s Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll 

More than half of the respondents disapprove of the president’s job performance — 51 percent — though Congress fared even worse, garnering an 81 percent disapproval rating. Forty percent hold negative views of Democrats, topped by 47 percent feeling negatively toward Republicans. Obama’s approval rating also remains essentially tied with the record low approval in NBC’s polling that he registered in October.

“Since the rise of modern polling in the 1930s, only George W. Bush has begun his sixth year in the White House on rockier ground than Mr. Obama,” the Journal said in its article.

Just 2 percent of respondents said they were very satisfied with the economy. Seventy-one percent were very or somewhat dissatisfied, compared with 26 percent who were somewhat satisfied.

Obama plans to focus on seven key issues this evening, according to The Washington Post. Those agenda items include: defending Obamacare, climate change, early childhood education, immigration reform, ending the war in Afghanistan, foreign policy, and bipartisanship.

A whopping 91 percent of those polled said job creation should be an absolute priority this year, followed by trimming the federal budget, preschool for all children, and addressing Iran’s nuclear program. While the president is expected to make climate change one of his key talking points, only 27 percent of poll respondents think the issue should be a priority for the administration.

After failing to produce any meaningful legislative results with Republicans in 2013, the president plans to tout a “pen and phone strategy,” according to The Washington Post.

“Look for Obama to focus on actions that he and his administration can take unilaterally without seeking approval from the Republican-controlled House, which remains hostile to his agenda,” the paper reports. “For weeks now, the president and his advisers have talked about a ‘pen and phone’ strategy by which Obama signs executive orders or uses the bully pulpit of the White House as convening power to make progress on issues ranging from the economy to the environment.”

Other noteworthy poll results:

  • 44 percent of respondents reported negative views of Obama, while 42 percent felt positively about him.
  • 62 percent of respondents used negative descriptors, such as “downhill,” “wrong track,” “disaster” and “hard times,” to characterize where they think America is headed in the nest year.
  • 48 percent said Obamacare is a “total bad idea.”
  • 55 percent favored legalizing marijuana.

The White House was dismissive of the poll numbers.

“I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about that. Here’s what I spend a lot of time worrying about: making sure the American people see publicly what I see privately every day, which is a president who’s focused very much on opportunity, action and optimism,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday.

“Notwithstanding what the polls say and notwithstanding what Congress does … the president of the United States doesn’t come down to work every day or go home up to the residence every night worried about poll numbers. What he worries about is making sure there’s opportunity for every American,” McDonough said.

Urgent: Do You Approve or Disapprove of President Obama’s Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll 

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

John Podesta Returns to White House to Help Obama Sort Out Obamacare.

Image: John Podesta Returns to White House to Help Obama Sort Out Obamacare

By Elliot Jager

Former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff John Podesta is returning to the White House to serve as counselor to President Barack Obama on matters related to the administration’s troubled healthcare policy, The New York Times reported.
Podesta, a veteran Democratic strategist, will lend a hand to Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough. His main task will be to refurbish the administration’s political credibility which has taken a beating as a result of the troubles associated with the Affordable Care Act, the Times reported.
McDonough has also asked Phil Schiliro, who left in 2011, to return to the White House as his top congressional lobbyist on healthcare.
Podesta — who turns 65 in January — founded the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank with close White House ties, whose focus is income inequality and economic opportunity.
The counselor assignment is due to last a year. Podesta recently attended a fundraising event for a possible Hillary Clinton run for the presidency in 2016, Politico reported.
Obama’s longtime troubleshooter Pete Rouse recently left the White House and Podesta is also seen as someone who can replace him as a presidential confidante.
Podesta, helped navigate the Clinton White House during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and ensuing 1998 impeachment by the House.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

White House Discussed Scrapping Entire Obamacare Website.

The abysmal rollout of the Obamacare individual mandate last month exposed a website so badly flawed that White House officials considered junking it altogether, according to a detailed account of the inner workings of the healthcare plan’s debacle.

While President Barack Obama touted publicly that “interest way exceeded expectations, and that’s the good news” during the first weekend of the rollout, White House officials were considering another question, The New York Times reports in a front page article Sunday — “Should we just take the website down altogether for a time so it can be fixed?”

The question was dismissed by Todd Park, the administration’s chief technology officer, because, he said, had to be up and running for one simple reason — “To see where the problems are,” the Times reports.

“One senior White House official said they briefly considered scrapping the system altogether. They decided it was fixable.”

The site was taken down that first weekend, Oct. 4-6, for technology repairs during off-peak hours.

As time ticked down on Saturday’s deadline for having operating smoothly for millions of Americans, the Times details major missteps by the Obama administration as the Oct. 1 rollout approached.

They included the fact that the website, which covers 36 states that lack their own health exchanges, “had never been fully tested,” and that “was flailing in part because of the Medicare agency’s decision not to hire a ‘systems integrator’ who could coordinate its complex parts.

“The White House would also have to hold together a fragile alliance of Democratic lawmakers and insurance executives,” the newspaper reports.

“If we don’t do that,” one senior White House adviser told the Times, “it’s a very serious threat to the success of the legislation and a very serious threat to him,” referring to Obama. “We get that.”

The article further discloses how the effort to improve “exposed a deeply dysfunctional relationship between the Department of Health and Human Services and its technology contractors, and tensions between the White House chief of staff and senior health department officials.

“It strained relations between the Obama administration and the insurance industry, helped revive a Republican Party battered after the two-week government shutdown and frustrated, even infuriated, Congressional Democrats,” the Times reports. continues be attacked by Republicans for its technological and accessibility problems.

In addition, more than 5 million Americans have seen their existing insurance policies cancelled since the rollout began, despite President Obama’s promise that they could keep their health plans and their doctors if they chose to — and the GOP-controlled House voted to let Americans keep their health insurance policies for another year.

The day before the Nov. 15 House vote, Obama announced that he would grant by executive order a one-year reprieve for Americans whose health policies have been canceled.

He had hoped to stem Democratic defections, the Times reports.

A total of 39 Democrats voted for the bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, “far fewer than the White House had feared,” the Times reports.

According to the Times, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was “ebullient” the day before the Obamacare rollout.’s development was overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which falls under her department.

“We’re about to make some history,” Sebelius said. White House officials were just as excited about the high traffic on the first day, the Times reports.

“The traffic is really high,” the article quotes White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as saying.

But another reality was unfolding at the offices of CGI Federal in Northern Virginia, according to the account. The company is the U.S. subsidiary of a Montreal-based information technology firm that built most of

“Technicians were frantic,” the Times reports. “They were beginning to realize what the White House did not: that the exchange’s problems involved much more than delays caused by high traffic.

“Errors were popping up everywhere. Software that assigned identities to enrollees and ensured that they saw only their own personal data, known internally as the EIdM, was being quickly overwhelmed. Customers could not log in to create accounts.”

The article later says: “As engineers tried to come to grips with repeated crashes, a host of problems were becoming apparent: inadequate capacity in its data center and sloppy computer code, partly the result of rushed work amid the rapidly changing specifications issued by the government.

“The website had barely been tested before it went live, so a large number of software and hardware defects had not been uncovered,” the Times reports. “Fixing the account creation software simply exposed other problems; people still could not register to buy insurance.

“A system intended to handle 50,000 simultaneous users was fundamentally unstable, unable to handle even a tiny fraction of that. As few as 500 users crippled it, according to people involved.

“These are not glitches,” one insurance executive told the Times during the early days of the debacle. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’ ”

Despite Obama’s promise that will be working better by December, White House officials continue to fear a rush of visitors to the site, according to the Times.

“The immediate goal in recent days has been to double’s capacity, so that 50,000 people will be able to log on simultaneously and 800,000 can visit in a single day,” the article says. Technology officials also are creating an overflow “waiting room.”

But “it remains unclear whether the enrollment data being transmitted to insurers is completely accurate,” the Times reports. “In a worst-case scenario, insurance executives fear that some people may not actually get enrolled in the plans they think they have chosen, or that some people may receive wrong information about the subsidies for which they are eligible.”

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Todd Beamon

Obamacare Woes Continue as Weekend Deadline Looms.

President Barack Obama’s healthcare law is facing its biggest test this weekend since its disastrous October 1 launch, as Americans find out whether the administration has met a self-imposed deadline to fix its insurance shopping website.

Another major outage of glitch-ridden could spell more political trouble for the president, who was forced to apologize for the botched rollout and admit burdening Democratic Party allies in their bids for re-election to Congress in 2014.
If the website does not work on Saturday’s deadline, that could turn off millions of uninsured Americans, especially young and healthy consumers whose participation in the new insurance exchanges are critical for keeping costs in check.
Democratic leaders in Congress might also find it necessary to extend open enrollment beyond the March 31 deadline and delay fines mandated by the law for people who do not have insurance by that date – a prospect that insurers warn would destabilize the market.
Obama officials are confident that this second coming of will be much improved from the October 1 debut. Millions of people looked into the website in its first month, but only about 27,000 cleared the gauntlet of technical obstacles to sign up for insurance.
The portal is the gateway for health insurance plans in 36 states under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, which was passed in 2010. It is intended to move the United States closer to universal care by subsidizing insurance sold by the private sector for less affluent families.
Officials have said that by Saturday the website will be able to load quickly and work accurately for at least 80 percent of users. They have said it will be able to handle 50,000 simultaneous visitors, for a daily total of about 800,000, twice the capacity seen even on Wednesday before a final flurry of hardware and software fixes over the Thanksgiving holiday.
And officials have warned that the website will still suffer some delays and outages in the weeks to come. To help consumers left hanging when traffic exceeds capacity, they have created a new “queuing system” to tell consumers when to come back.
Short of a major outage, it may be difficult to immediately measure the administration’s success because officials only release enrollment figures once a month. That will make anecdotes from consumers and enrollment groups all the more important.
“Even if it’s working well, people will encounter problems,” said Mark Hall, a Wake Forest University professor of law and public health. “You hope there’s more good stories than bad stories.”
The abysmal launch of Obamacare has hurt the president and congressional Democrats, with Obama’s approval ratings dipping to the lowest point of his presidency. A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed 56 percent of Americans disapprove of how Obama is doing his job, while 38 percent approve.
If the situation worsens, Democrats could risk losing control of the Senate in 2014, when 20 Democratic senators face reelection, and many are in tight races. Republicans have called for the law to be scrapped because they consider it an unwarranted expansion of the federal government and believe it will push up insurance costs.
Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough now meets every other week with Democratic senators running in 2014 to reassure them Obamacare is on the mend, a White House official said.
The administration has prioritized fixes that consumers see, leaving other parts of the system for a later date. On Wednesday, officials said they would delay online enrollment for small businesses for a year.
Obama issued a rare apology earlier this month for mishaps with the rollout.
But as November 30 has drawn closer, Obama has become more assertive. “The website is continually working better, so check it out,” Obama said in a speech on Tuesday.
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, told a group of state and local officials on a call this week that “we are definitely on track to have a significantly different user experience by the end of this month.”
Insurance companies have also noticed the difference.
“I don’t expect this to be an overnight change because it appears they have been making improvements as they go,” said J. Mario Molina, chief executive of Molina Healthcare Inc, a company offering plans in nine states, including California.
“It is easier to navigate. It’s working better. It’s faster,” Molina said.
Even if the website does stand up to increased traffic, there are issues on the system’s “back end” that need to be addressed.
As much as 30 to 40 percent of the site still needs to be built to handle payments and federal subsidies, a federal official told lawmakers earlier this month.
And the administration is planning a “soft launch” with small volumes for long-delayed Spanish language enrollment tools for more than 10 million uninsured Latino Americans.
Once the website is fixed, the White House also faces the challenge of raising awareness about the law. More than 35 percent of people without insurance say they have heard nothing about the new marketplace, according to polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.


© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Nervous Senate Democrats Grill White House on Obamacare Failures.

By Melanie Batley

Senate Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed about the political consequences of the botched Obamacare roll-out, and are demanding reassurances from the White House that the obstacles with the website and other problems with the law can be overcome swiftly.

The lawmakers met with senior administration officials on Thursday to vent their frustrations over the dysfunctional website, and demanded assurances about when the issues would be resolved, Politico reports. 

ObamaCareYou Can Win With The Facts 

“I didn’t think there’s confidence by anyone in the room. This is more of a show-me moment,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley told Politico. “We were all confident that the system was going to be up and running by Oct. 1. And no, we’re not confident until it’s real.”

White House staff present at the meeting — including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Marilyn Tavenner, and White House chief performance officer Jeff Zients, who was brought in to manage the project to fix the site — reassured lawmakers that the online marketplaces would be fixed by the end of November.

Officials also said they would rectify the problems associated with policyholders losing their current coverage under the new system. The issue has become a major political headache for the president given his repeated assurances from the earliest days of floating the healthcare law that anyone who chose to keep their existing policy would be able to do so.

The meeting was seen as a sign that the White House is anxious to prevent Democrats from breaking ranks or pressing for delays of major portions of Obamacare, Politico reports. Democrats who are already vulnerable in the 2014 midterm elections are concerned about the impact of the Obamacare debacle on their re-election prospects.

One of them, Mark Begich of Alaska, said, “People are frustrated just like I am in trying to get on to the site.”


White House Knew Millions Could Not Keep Health Plans

Only 6 People Enrolled in Obamacare on First Day

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

McDonough ‘Outraged’ at Cruz for Saying U.S. Becoming Al-Qaida Ally.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough says he is “outraged” that anyone would suggest that American troops would be serving as allies to al-Qaida if the United States strikes Syria.

ABC’s “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos asked McDonough about the words of Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that such a missile attack would make the United States “al-Qaida’s air force.”

“I’m outraged for somebody to suggest that our people would be serving as allies to al-Qaida,” McDonough said.

Critics of a strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad over use of chemical weapons on civilians have warned that up to seven of the nine rebel factions in Syria have been infiltrated by elements of the terrorist group.

Cruz appeared immediately after Stephanopoulos’ pre-taped interview with McDonough, and said he didn’t originate the quote. It was first stated by former Democratic Sen. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, and later tweeted by a current member of the U.S. Navy, he said.

Cruz said he thinks there are better alternatives than getting directly involved in Syria’s civil war. He suggested cutting off Iraq‘s $5 million in aid unless they stop letting Iran fly over the country to resupply Assad.

Cruz also suggested forcing a vote in U.N. Security Council, making Russia and China go on record with their threats to veto it. Once they do, the United States should reinstate the anti-ballistic missile station in Eastern Europe that was cancelled at beginning of Obama’s first term and begin selling new F-16s to Taiwan.

No national security issue is at stake in Syria, Cruz said.

“I don’t think that’s the job of our military to be defending amorphous international norms.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Greg Richter

Rand Paul Backs Off From Syria Filibuster Threat.

Image: Rand Paul Backs Off From Syria Filibuster Threat

By Audrey Hudson

Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday he would not filibuster the president’s request to launch strikes against Syria but that he would insist Barack Obama abide by Congress’s demands if it votes to prohibit military intervention in the civil war.

The Kentucky Republican told “Fox News Sunday” a filibuster would only delay a vote authorizing use of force.

“I will insist there is full debate on this and I will insist that I get an amendment and my amendment will say that the vote is binding — that the president cannot, if we vote him down, decide to go to war anyway,” Paul said.

“That’s the way I interpret the Constitution, and I will insist on at least one vote where we say, ‘Hey guys, this is not political show, this is not constitutional theater, this is a binding vote,'” Paul said.

Asked if he would support impeaching Obama if he disregarded the will of Congress, Paul cited several examples in which he believed the president had already done so, including the recess appointments of controversial nominees.

“Whether you impeach someone is a different question and is obviously a very big one, so I wouldn’t make a judgment on that,” Paul said.

“But I would say the Constitution was intended to let Congress initiate war and the president execute war, and I don’t think any of that’s changed,” Paul said.

If the U.S. strikes targets intending to destroy chemical weapons used by President Bashar Assad, Paul said he was concerned the attack could backfire.
“If we go in on the side of rebels, we’ll be going in on the side of al-Qaida and most of us think we have been fighting al-Qaida for ten or 12 years now, so it’s a hard obstacle to overcome,” Paul said.

“My question to the administration is, if you bomb Assad, will it be more likely or less likely that the chemical weapons will become unsecured and they could go to rogue elements such as al-Qaida, which is fighting with the rebels against the Assad government,” Paul said.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and suggested the nation and Congress are war weary because of the post September 11 battles waged in Afghanistan and Iraq by the Bush administration.

“That is an absolutely understandable sentiment, given all the sacrifice and investment the United States has made and our armed forces have made for the last 11 and 12 years,” McDonough said.

“So it’s absolutely an understandable sentiment, and that’s why what the president has in mind here, and that we’re consulting with Congress on, is a limited, targeted, consequential action,” McDonough said.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

WH Chief of Staff: U.S. Has No Military Allies for Syria Strike.

Image: WH Chief of Staff: U.S. Has No Military Allies for Syria Strike

By Amy Woods and Greg Richter

The United States has no military allies in its plan to launch missile attacks against Syria as punishment for the country’s use of chemical weapons, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Sunday.

McDonough conceded the fact on CNN’s “State of the Union” after persistent questioning from host Candy Crowley, who asked him whether President Barack Obama has secured international military support for the strike — as opposed to moral support.

“Not at this point,” he said. “But it is specific support for holding him [Syrian President Bashar Assad] to account, and it is a recognition that it happened. We feel very good about the support we have, and we’ll continue to build more.”

McDonough said Obama, Congress and the rest of the world no longer doubt the fact Assad carried out such horrific crimes against his people.

“Nobody now debates the intelligence, which makes clear … that in August, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people,” he said. “The entire world believes that. Congress has the opportunity this week to answer a simple question: Should there be consequences for him for having used that material.”

Obama, who will address the country Sept. 10 on the topic, has called for a targeted, limited, consequential-action campaign to deter Assad and degrade his capabilities for another chemical-weapons attack, McDonough said.

“This is not Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said. “This is not Libya. This is not an extended air campaign.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McDonough said stopping the Syrian government from moving chemical weapons out of hiding and onto the front lines is the goal of Obama’s intended missile strikes.

If chemical weapons are moved to the front lines, it means a greater risk of them being proliferated, McDonough said.

“I hope that every member of Congress, before he or she decides how they’ll cast their vote, will look at those pictures,” McDonough said, referring to the video of an Aug. 21 attack showing adults and children suffering from the effects of sarin gas. The video also shows the bodies of dead children lined up across a room.

Although public sentiment and that of Congress is largely against U.S. military action, McDonough said that no one who has seen the intelligence on the attack doubts it.

“That means that everybody believes that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people … killing nearly 1,500 on Aug. 21,” McDonough said. “So the question for Congress this week is what are the consequences for his having done so?”

Congress’ answer will be listened to not only in Syria, McDonough said, but also in Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah. Iran, which is working on a nuclear weapons program, must be told that it does not have greater freedom to act, he said.

“They do not have greater operating space to pursue a nuclear weapon which would destabilize that entire region, threaten our friends and allies and ultimately threaten us.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Obama Expands Push to Sell Syria Attack in War-Weary U.S.

Image: Obama Expands Push to Sell Syria Attack in War-Weary U.S.

Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria march to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 7.

President Barack Obama and his allies are intensifying a public-relations offensive in what even Obama has called a “heavy lift” to win public and congressional support for a military strike on Syria.

The White House effort includes appearances by Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, on all five of the U.S. Sunday network talk shows. Obama will follow up with six television network interviews tomorrow before giving a prime-time televised address to the nation on Sept. 10.

After failing to persuade allies at the Group of 20 summit in Russia last week to unite behind military action, Obama returned to Washington to press his request for congressional authorization for a “limited” military strike to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for what the U.S says was a chemical weapons attack.

“Nobody now debates” U.S. intelligence showing Assad is responsible for the Aug. 21 assault near Damascus, McDonough said today on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast. He said Congress must determine “should there be consequences” for the attack which killed more than 1,400 people, many of them children, according to U.S. intelligence.

U.S. Credibility

Obama must “emphasize the importance of this issue for credibility of the United States globally,” Stephen Hadley, a national security adviser to President George W. Bush, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “It’s going to be hard, but it’s really the only option.”

Almost six in 10 Americans oppose the U.S. conducting a unilateral missile strike against Syria, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. Seventy percent oppose supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, according to the poll of 1,012 adults, which was taken Aug. 28 to Sept. 1 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

While many members of Congress remain undecided, more have voiced opposition or doubt about Obama’s authorization request than have endorsed it. Obama’s difficulties were compounded yesterday in the Senate, which is scheduled to begin debate tomorrow and vote this week on a resolution approving force.

Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who faces re- election next year in a state Obama lost in his 2012 re- election, issued a statement saying he opposes U.S. military action in Syria “at this time” because the administration hasn’t proved “a compelling national security interest” or provided a clearly defined mission for an attack.

Republican Opposition

The challenge may be even steeper in the Republican-controlled House, where Obama must overcome opposition from Tea Party Republicans, anti-war Democrats and members of both parties concerned about drawing the U.S. into another Mideast conflict.

“I knew this was going to be a heavy lift,” Obama said Sept. 6 at a press conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, after the G-20 meeting of economic powers. “I understand the skepticism. I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through, systematically, making the case to every senator and every member of Congress. And that’s what we’re doing.”

As part of the campaign for support, the Senate intelligence committee posted online yesterday 13 videos that “claim to show victims of a chemical or poison gas attack,” according to the committee’s website.

The videos were posted on Google Inc.’s YouTube by Syrian opposition groups, according to the committee, whose chairman, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, backs Obama’s call for a use-of-force resolution.

Dead Bodies

The videos, compiled by the Open Source Center run by the Central Intelligence Agency, show victims lying on a floor, convulsing and foaming at the mouth. They also show rows of dead bodies. The opposition-supplied videos provide no evidence of who was responsible for the attack.

A U.S. intelligence report released last month assessed “with high confidence” that the Syrian government conducted the chemical weapons attack, although it stopped short of saying who gave the order to use the weapons and whether a rogue element of the regime could have been responsible.

Former administration officials also have been lending their voices on Obama’s behalf, with former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates issuing statements urging Congress to approve a strike.

Drawn In

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who backs military action, on Saturday spotlighted the Petraeus statement on a Twitter Inc. post that said, “Gen. David Petraeus strongly urges action on Syria — the most respected military leader of our time.”

Lawmakers in both parties have expressed concern that the U.S. may be drawn into the 2 1/2 year-old Syrian civil war, in which more than 100,000 people have died, or a conflict that expands to include other regional actors, such as Iran or Hezbollah.

“Given the case that has been presented to me, I believe that a military strike against Syria at this time is the wrong course of action,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said in a statement last week. “I believe that we must exhaust all diplomatic options and have a comprehensive plan for international involvement before we act.”

No Boots

Obama’s weekly radio and Internet address yesterday provided a preview of his appeal that “what we’re talking about is not an open-ended intervention. This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground.”

Failing to act, he said, “would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again, that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.”

Obama, after returning to Washington the previous night, spent part of yesterday playing golf at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington. He planned to make calls to members of Congress this weekend, according to a White House official who asked not to be identified.
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