WASHINGTON -- White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Sunday that it's too early to say whether there are enough votes in Congress to authorize an intervention in Syria, and he attempted to make the case for why members should get behind the president.
"This is not Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not Libya, a sustained air campaign," McDonough said on "Fox News Sunday." "This is not boots on the ground. This is a targeted effort to reinforce a prohibition that goes back nearly 100 years. A prohibition that has benefited our troops greatly, by the way."
McDonough appeared on all five major Sunday shows to make the administration's case for use of force against Syria after, it claims, that country's president, Bashar Assad, killed thousands of people using chemical weapons.
Although Obama opted to go to Congress to authorize an attack on Syria, the president has not entirely ruled out acting without lawmakers' go-ahead. McDonough also declined on "Fox News Sunday" to do so, and wouldn't give a straight answer on whether the administration has the votes.
"I think it's too early to come to any conclusions" about whether Congress will authorize the attacks, he said.
There are far from enough votes to approve action, according to HuffPost's whip count.
McDonough insisted that no members have refuted the evidence of Assad's use of chemical weapons given to them by the administration. One member, at least, disagreed:
Who are they talking to? MT ChadPergram: Wh CoS says not a single lawmaker he's talked to "rebutting or refuting the intelligence" #Syria
— Richard Hudson (@RepRichHudson) September 8, 2013
McDonough said that public skepticism on intervention is "understandable."
“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," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "That's why what the president has in mind here, and what we’re consulting with Congress on is a limited, targeted, consequential action."
McDonough acknowledged to CNN’s Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" that U.S. officials are not 100 percent certain that Assad was behind the chemical weapons attacks, given the inconsistencies inherent in intelligence.
“Now do we have irrefutable, beyond reasonable doubt evidence? This is not a court of law, and intelligence does not work that way,” McDonough said. He added that common sense says Assad "is responsible for this. He should be held accountable."
Secretary of State John Kerry gave a forceful defense of U.S. intelligence on Syria at a separate appearance on Sunday, according to the Boston Globe's Matt Viser:
"This is not fantasy land, this is not conjecture," Kerry says. "Bashir al-Assad has used chemical weapons at least 11 times."
— Matt Viser (@mviser) September 8, 2013
See the current whip count of where House lawmakers stand on Syria intervention: