Some members of Congress had their summer breaks cut short this Labor Day weekend, as the United States teeters on the brink of throwing itself into another country's civil war.
Though lawmakers aren't officially back on the clock until Sept. 9, on Tuesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry - who, before joining the administration, was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. According to a State Department official, the hearing will try to make the case for the "ongoing effort to make the case to members of Congress and to the American people on why targeted military action is necessary to hold the Assad regime accountable for their horrific use of chemical weapons" in Syria.
Classified briefings for all members will be offered through the end of the week. And Wednesday's schedule is already stocked: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold an open hearing with Kerry testifying, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have a closed-door hearing with Kerry and James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence.
Meantime, President Obama, three days afterto take his case for direct involvement in Syria's two-year-old conflict to Congress, is on tap to embark Tuesday on a trip to Stockholm, Sweden, for meetings heading into the G-20 Summit in Russia. Before he leaves he plans to meet with chairs and ranking members from key national security committees, including the Senate Armed Services, Senate Foreign Relations, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Armed Services Committee.
But it's a moment of trepidation, for both lawmakers and the president, whose decision to invoke Congress signaled an after seeming on the brink of ordering U.S. forces to launch a missile strike against Syria, in light of evidence that President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
On Monday, the president hosted at the White House Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who marches more often than not in lockstep with McCain, where according to a senior White House official: "The president made clear his view that the failure to take limited action against Assad would unravel the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use; would endanger U.S. allies in the region; and would risk emboldening Assad and his allies, Hezbollah and Iran."
And 127 House Democrats dialed into a call Monday morning with National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Kerry, Hagel, Clapper and Dempsey.
What happens next, though,.
The president's position, as he's crafted it, hinges entirely on what Congress and his Cabinet want to do. Kerry on Sunday trumpeted Mr. Obama's move, saying it makes a compelling case to American allies in the region that "the United States is acting in concert in a way that really sends a powerful message about our credibility.
"...I think that makes it even more compelling that the Congress of the United States be counted with the president in this effort so that Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, all of our friends and allies in the region, will know that the United States is acting in concert in a way that really sends a powerful message about our credibility, about our intentions to uphold international norms," he went on. "And that will have an impact on other decisions down the road."
Kerry - who would not say whether the president planned to engage in a covert arming of the opposition -that the administration's decision to engage in Syria does not mean it intends "to have America assume responsibility" for the country's raging civil war.
"The president has drawn a clear line," Kerry said. "He does not intend to put boots on the ground. He is not going to envelope the United States inside Syria's civil struggle. But he has committed to help the opposition. And he has stated unequivocally that [President Bashar] Assad has lost all legitimacy and cannot conceivably continue to govern, ultimately, Syria."
McCain - one of the loudest critics of the administration's handling of Syria - said Mr. Obama's plan now could be more difficult because Assad - who about the president's course - "is moving his forces around." The remarks echoed concerns he expressed Sunday onthat "unprecedented leaking" about what ships and missiles the United States has positioned near Syria, would mean that "a reversal, at this point, I think, has serious consequences."
"We have to make it clear that a vote against this would be catastrophic in its consequences," McCain told reporters Monday after his meeting with the president. Still, he maintained, Mr. Obama must present a clear, delineated plan for his intentions in Syria.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, predicted that after a "very historic and important debate, lawmakers will "rally behind the principle that use of chemical weapons is wrong and it can't go unpunished." He echoed Kerry's sentiment.
"We should not be sending servicemen and -women into military conflict if they don't have complete confidence that the nation's political leadership is behind them," Kaine said. "And so what this debate in Congress will do is it will educate the American public about the important principles at stake against use of chemical weapons. And it will help them understand, and help Congress come to a consensus about what needs to be done.
"...If we can reach a consensus, we will be much stronger as a nation," he concluded. "And the likelihood of success of our actions will be I think great."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. - scion of his famously noninterventionist father, Ron Paul - told NBC's "Meet the Press" that any involvement by the United States in Syria would be a "mistake." The Democrat-controlled Senate, he predicted, would "rubber-stamp" the president's rally for U.S. intervention, but forecasted the outlook in the GOP-led House as less certain: "50-50," he said.
Paul predicted the Senate would "rubber-stamp" the president's push for U.S. intervention, but said the outcome in the House is more uncertain - "50-50," in his estimation.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in a statement the hearing Tuesday will allow lawmakers to "debate this issue actively, fully and publicly."
He went on: "It is my view that the use of military force in Syria is justified and necessary given the Assad regime's reprehensible use of chemical weapons and gross violation of international law. I look forward to sharing these views with my colleagues in the days ahead as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convenes to take up this vital national security issue."