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Ayotte remains undecided on Syria resolution after dinner with Obama, Biden

Senior Political Reporter

September 09. 2013 3:43PM

Sen. Kelly Ayotte remains undecided on whether to support President Barack Obama’s plan for military strikes against Syria after a dinner discussion with the President and Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday night, a spokesman said Monday.

Ayotte was among six Republican senators who dined on “Italian food served family style” at the U.S. Naval Observatory, the official residence of the Vice President, according to a pool report.

Obama, reports say, made an unannounced visit to the observatory shortly after 7 p.m. and spent about 80 minutes with the group.

The dinner and presidential drop-by was part of Obama’s intensifying effort to lobby undecided and skeptical members of Congress to support his resolution authorizing military force against the Syrian government. He is scheduled to speak to the nation from the Oval Office on his plan Tuesday night.

Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone said Monday that following the dinner,  Ayotte remains undecided.

In an email to constituents last Friday, Ayotte wrote that after participating in a classified Senate Armed Services Committee briefing last Wednesday, she was evaluating the Senate resolution.

The first vote related to the resolution will be a “cloture” vote, requiring 60 votes, to proceed to debate and vote on the resolution. A vote Wednesday on moving forward with debate appears likely.

The final vote requires a simply majority.

The timing of a vote in the House remains unclear.

The resolution that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote last week sets a 60-day deadline for military action in Syria, with one 30-day extension possible. It also bars the involvement of U.S. ground forces.

“I still have additional questions about our military objectives and how we will achieve them,” Ayotte wrote on Friday.

“I look forward to hearing what the President will say in his address to the nation” on Tuesday night, “including why using military force against the Assad regime is in our national security interests, what our objectives will be in using force, and how we will achieve those objectives,” Ayotte wrote.

Also attending the Sunday night dinner were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Rob Corker of Tennessee and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is supporting Obama on the strike, having voted in favor of the resolution in the foreign relations committee  last week.

“Failing to take action against the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons poses a significant and direct threat to American national security interests,” Shaheen said after the vote.

In the House, New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter said she opposes the strike, while Rep. Ann Kuster has said she is leaning against the resolution.

Shea-Porter said, “If the United States launches a sustained and heavy attack, we run the risk of swapping (Syrian leader) Assad out for some equally ruthless group. If we launch a smaller, targeted attack, we run the risk of emboldening President Assad and causing more casualties.”

Kuster said her concern “is that this strike -- whatever the scope, whatever the duration -- will have consequences in the region that I don’t know that we can predict.”

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