WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama won critical support from House Speaker John Boehner for a punitive strike against Syria on Tuesday, and senior Cabinet officials labored to convince Congress that Bashar Assad's government must be punished for a suspected chemical weapons attack the administration blames for more than 1,000 dead.
The leader of House Republicans, Boehner emerged from a meeting at the White House and said the United States has "enemies around the world that need to understand that we're not going to tolerate this type of behavior. We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it's necessary."
Boehner spoke as lawmakers in both parties readied changes in the president's requested legislation, rewriting it to restrict the type and duration of any military action that would be authorized, possibly including a ban on U.S. combat forces on the ground.
Secretary of State John Kerry, lead-off witness at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, said, "President Obama is not asking America to go to war." And yet, he added, "this is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter."
Obama said he was open to revisions in the relatively broad request the White House made over the weekend. He expressed confidence Congress would respond to his call for support in a military action against Assad, whose government the president said used chemical weapons indiscriminately and "killed thousands of people, including over 400 children."
The administration says 1,429 died in the episode. Casualty estimates by other groups from the attack on Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb are far lower, and Assad's government blames the episode on rebels who have been seeking to overthrow his government in a civil war that began over two years ago. A United Nations inspection team is awaiting lab results on tissue and soil samples it collected while in the country before completing a closely watched report.