posted at 5:01 pm on September 20, 2016 by John Sexton
Democrats in Congress bowed to the Obama administration’s desire to delay a bill aimed at sanctioning Syria for documented instances of mass torture and mass murder.
The bill is called the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. Caesar is a code name for a former Syrian military photographer who escaped the country in 2013 with 55,000 photos documenting the crimes committed by the Assad regime. The bill, which has bipartisan support, was expected to get a vote this week until the White House stopped it. From the Washington Post:
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was the primary author of the bill, along with his committee counterpart Ed Royce (R-Calif.). Even liberal Democrats like Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) had signed on. But late Friday afternoon, just before the legislative calendar for the following week was to be released, White House legislative affairs staffers began calling leadership in both parties urging them to shelve the legislation…
There had been an agreement between Republicans and Democrats to bring the bill to the House floor this week under a suspension of the rules, which provides for a streamlined process but also requires two-thirds support to pass. Once Democratic leadership went back on that agreement, the obstacles to passing it increased immensely. Royce, whose committee approved the bill in July, also put the blame on the Obama administration.
“I’m dismayed that the administration seems to be throwing up roadblocks to our bipartisan effort to cut off the resources Assad uses to annihilate his own people, and I will continue working to find a path forward for this important legislation,” he said.
The Obama administration must be ashamed of itself because they are claiming, to reporter Josh Rogin, that congressional Democrats reached this decision on their own. But Rogin’s congressional sources tell him the administration argued that a vote on the Caesar bill could hurt a fledgling cease-fire effort negotiated by Secretary of State Kerry.
The cease fire appeared to collapse Monday when Syria began bombing Aleppo again. However, today Secretary Kerry met with his Russian counterpart and other world leaders and proclaimed, “The cease-fire is not dead.” From the Wall Street Journal:
“The mood of the meeting was very much that nobody wants to give this thing up,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters after the meeting. “Quite frankly the Kerry-Lavrov process is the only show in town and we’ve got to get that show back on the road.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the cease-fire, brokered by the U.S. and Russia on Sept. 10, required greater international participation. “We have to be honest, the U.S.-Russia negotiation has reached its limits,” he said. “The Russians and Americans alone will not be able to achieve this cease-fire.”
So, two weeks after another reported chemical attack, the Obama administration is delaying a bill aimed at dissuading Assad’s regime from further mass murder and mass torture. If there’s an argument that a cease fire accomplishes something more immediate than the bill in question, why is the White House only making that case privately to Democrats in congress? If this is the best approach to dealing with the humanitarian disaster in Syria, shouldn’t they be willing to defend their delay of the Caesar bill on the record?