By Fred Barbash
WASHINGTON, Sept 8 (Reuters) - White House efforts to convince the U.S. Congress to back military action against Syria are not only failing, they seem to be stiffening the opposition.
That was the assessment on Sunday, not of an opponent but of an early and ardent Republican supporter of Obama's plan for attacking Syria, the influential Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers.
Rogers told CBS's "Face the Nation" the White House had made a "confusing mess" of the Syria issue. Now, he said, "I'm skeptical myself."
Congress will be in session on Monday for the first time since the August recess. Debate on Syria could begin in the full Senate this week, with voting as early as Wednesday. The House of Representatives could take up the issue later this week or next.
Obama is expected to spend the next several days in personal meetings with members.
Some Democratic opponents of a military strike, meanwhile, were looking for a way to spare Obama's administration the effects of a "no" vote.
Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts suggested that the president withdraw his request before it is defeated, saying on CNN's "State of the Union" that there was insufficient support for it in Congress.
There are no signs that Obama is considering that, but speculation about the possibility that the administration might delay a vote surfaced on Sunday when Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Paris after meeting Arab foreign ministers, did not rule out returning to the United Nations Security Council to secure a Syria resolution.
A U.S. official who asked not to be named later squelched that speculation: "We have always supported working through the U.N. but have been clear there is not a path forward there."
Obama is scheduled to address the American public on television on Tuesday, but even his political allies fear that his acknowledged power as an orator will be tested, given that polls show a majority of Americans opposed to his plan for military action.
White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough suggested that the speech will repeat points Obama has already made several times.
"What he'll tell the country is what this is, which is a targeted, limited, consequential" use of military force, McDonough said during a round of appearances on Sunday TV shows.
"He'll also tell the country what this is not. This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan. This is not an extended air campaign like Libya."
'FLOOD THE ZONE' IS NOT WORKING
Most opponents of the proposed U.S. military strike do not contest the administration's view that the Syrian government gassed its own people on Aug. 21. Their expressed concerns focus instead on the effectiveness and potential unintended consequences of a U.S. military response.
Only about a quarter of the Senate's 100 members and fewer than 25 members of the 435-seat House have been willing to go on record in support of Obama's request, according to a tally by the Washington Post. Seventeen senators and 111 House members are on record against.
Leaders of both parties have characterized Syria as a "conscience vote," not subject to the usual pressure for party discipline. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for example, has not made a personal pitch for votes in any of the five "Dear Colleague" letters she has sent her fellow Democrats.
The White House plans to step up what it has called a "flood the zone" lobbying effort this week, with briefings on Capitol Hill by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The influential American-Israel Public Affairs Committee will deploy hundreds of activists to lobby Congress in support of Obama's plan. However, similarly intense lobbying by the White House last week proved unsuccessful.
Rogers, among others, faults Obama for not starting months ago to build congressional and public support on Syria.
"They don't have strong relationships in Congress today - that's a huge problem for them," said Rogers. "I think it's very clear he's lost support in the last week.
As for the lack of public support, Rogers added: "You have a reluctant commander in chief, first of all, who's trying to come to the American people and say, 'I'm going to do something, but I'm not going to do a lot.' They're not sure exactly what we're trying to do."
Another Republican supporter, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, said on ABC's "This Week" that he had "reached out to the White House and said, 'hey we support the strike on Syria, we're going to help you round up support if you need it.' I haven't heard back from the White House yet." (Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; editing by Christopher Wilson)
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"All of this is horrific. All of us as human beings feel terrible when we see the extraordinary loss of life that [has] occurred in Syria," Rice said. "With chemical weapons, they can kill with indiscriminate abandon. People who are innocent are employed in conflict. It is of a greater magnitude because if terrorists get ahold of those weapons, if other dictators get ahold of those weapons, they can be used on a massive scale."
"We have enemies around the world that need to understand that we're not going to tolerate this type of behavior."
"I am against delaying reaction to what is a massacre of a thousand people," McCain said. "You saw these pictures of these dead children. Come on. This is horrific. We can't stand by and watch this happen."
"This is what Assad did to his own people," Kerry said. If the U.S. allowed "a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad" to get away with gassing his own people, he added, "there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will."
"I think the Islamic rebels winning is a bad idea for the Christians, and all of a sudden we'll have another Islamic state where Christians are persecuted," Paul said.
"As I said before, if we are dangerously uncertain of the outcome and are led into war by a Commander-in-chief who can’t recognize that this conflict is pitting Islamic extremists against an authoritarian regime with both sides shouting 'Allah Akbar' at each other, then let Allah sort it out," Palin continued.
“We should be focused on defending the United States of America. That’s why young men and women sign up to join the military, not to, as you know, serve as Al Qaeda’s air force.”
"This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm. "In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted."
"Assad has made a calculation now ... that he can use chemical weapons, or he believes he can use chemical weapons without consequence," Menendez said. "And in doing so there is a global message that in fact other state actors and other non-state actors may believe they can do so as well."