President Barack Obama is delivering a full media blitz to make his case to the public as a skeptical Congress takes up whether to authorize targeted military strikes in Syria this week.
Obama is scheduled to give six taped network interviews Monday to be aired during their evening broadcasts and plans to address the nation directly at 9 p.m. Tuesday to convince Americans to get on board with his proposal to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for alleged chemical weapons use that in one instance killed 1,400 people, including more than 400 children. Footage of the victims – convulsing, struggling to breath and foaming at the mouth – was posted over the weekend on the Internet by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Not to be left out, Assad agreed to an interview with CBS's Charlie Rose, which taped Sunday and will air Tuesday morning. Assad told Rose the United States should "expect every action" in response to a military strike in his country, according to a preview of the interview. He also denied responsibility for the chemical weapons attack.
Assad last was interviewed by U.S. television media in 2011 by ABC's Barbara Walters, where he said he had the support of the majority of his people, despite increasingly violent protests that were the beginning of the country's now two-year-long civil war that has resulted in more than 100,000 dead.
Obama also spent much of his time at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, last week working to build international support for military intervention.
It's an effort better late than never, but many question whether the increasingly unpopular Obama can turn the public opinion tide from just 36 percent in support to a plurality in just a few days. Members of Congress – particularly in the House – on both sides of the aisle have also been hesitant to back the plan.
Vice President Joe Biden hosted six Republican senators – Kelly Ayotte, Saxby Chambliss, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Deb Fischer and Lindsey Graham – for dinner Sunday night, and Obama made a visit, spending about an hour and 20 minutes making his case, according to a White House pool report.
The Senate is scheduled to take up a vote on a Syria resolution Monday at about 2 p.m., before Obama's taped network interviews air and a day ahead of his public address.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spent time before House and Senate committees last week as well, attempting to dissuade concerns that a strike in Syria would lead to war.
Many members of Congress said they were wary of ending up in another open-ended, Middle East conflict following the 10 years the U.S. has spent in Iraq.
Hillary Clinton will also make brief remarks on Syria while at the White House for an unrelated event Monday afternoon, according to news reports.
And the administration continues to strike a fine line, with Obama – a vociferous opponent of the Iraq War – reportedly deciding to ask Congress to vote on military action at the last minute. But the president and his cabinet have also insisted that intervention is justified and necessary, making a possible rebuke costly, both in terms of moving forward in Syria and with Obama's political agenda.
So far, Congress – particularly the Republican-controlled House – has been reluctant to move ahead on Obama proposals that actually are popular with the public, such as gun control or immigration reform. That means Obama will have to make a convincing case in order to move the needle. It also makes this week make or break for the president, not just in Syria but potentially the remainder of his presidency.