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Kerry on Syria: ‘We Are Not Going to Lose This Vote’

A day after President Barack Obama announced he would seek congressional authorization to strike Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry refused to consider defeat.

Asked by “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos if the president could lose the vote in Congress, Kerry responded: “I don’t contemplate that, George.” Asked whether the president would move ahead with military action if Congress didn’t authorize the mission, Kerry answered: “George, we are not going to lose this vote.”

Kerry — who appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’ “Face the Nation,” CNN’s “State of the Union” and “Fox News Sunday” — made the case for congressional authorization and navigated a number of difficult questions by giving indirect answers.

Kerry, who made the case for war to the American people on Aug. 30, said there were few risks in delaying a strike and that Obama had made “a very courageous and right, correct decision” in seeking congressional authorization.

“The United States of America is much stronger when we act in concert,” Kerry told Major Garrett on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“Why go to Congress? Because the United States is stronger,” Kerry told David Gregory on “Meet the Press,” later ramping up his “stronger” line, which he repeated on all five Sunday shows, by saying the United States is “strongest” when Congress authorizes military action.

Gregory also pressed Kerry on whether the United States would still strike Syria “if Congress says ‘no.’”

“I do not believe …” Kerry started, before Gregory cut him off to repeat his question.

“If Congress says ‘no’?” Gregory asked again, louder.

“I said the president has the authority to act, but Congress is going to do what’s right here,” Kerry said.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” host Gloria Borger pressed Kerry how he could be so sure that Congress, “notoriously paralyzed and divided,” would authorize action.

“We have confidence. There are good people in the Congress of the United States,” Kerry answered. “I know there have been politically — it’s been difficult. But this is a matter of national security. It’s a matter of the credibility of the United States of America. It’s a matter of upholding the interests of our allies and friends in the region.”

But critics — like Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., who said on Fox News Sunday that the president “has clearly retreated” — claim Obama is not leading on the issue by abdicating to Congress. Borger asked Kerry if Obama’s delayed action raises doubts about U.S. reliability and determination.

“The president made his decision first,” Kerry said. “His decision is that he believes the United States of America should take military action to deter Assad from using these weapons and to degrade his capacity for doing so.”

Kerry also took time Sunday to bolster the case for intervention, bringing forward new evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria.

But judging by Kerry’s posturing, and, indeed, Obama’s speech Aug. 31, the administration is leaving the door open to attacking Syria absent congressional authorization — as President Bill Clinton did in 1999 in Kosovo despite a failure of a war authorization in the House.

And judging by the current mood in Congress, the president faces an uphill battle.

“If the vote were today, it would probably be a ‘no’ vote,” Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., said on Fox News Sunday. King, who has been critical of Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval, said he would vote for the authorization but feared an “increasing isolationist wing in our party.”

Inhofe was more concrete. He said Congress would not approve a strike.

But Kerry expressed certainty in the intelligence and Congress’ response.

While he said “the words ‘slam dunk’ should be retired from American national security issues,” Kerry said the evidence of chemical weapons grew stronger every day and would, eventually, win over Congress and the American people.

“Sometimes the wheels of democracy require us to take an extra day or two to provide the legitimacy that our Founding Fathers contemplated in actions that we take,” Kerry said on “State of the Union.”