The delay gave an almost unprecedented twist to an address that had been planned to press Congress to vote quickly on his request. Instead, Obama used it to make the case for a response without knowing if that response will be military or diplomatic. Based on their instant responses Tuesday night, it was clear most members prefer the latter.
"I support his diplomatic efforts to promptly bring Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, one of the world's largest, under international control," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. "I agree with the president that Syria and Russia would not have raised that possibility if not for the credible threat of military force."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said in a statement that while he has doubts about "this 11th-hour offer, it would be wrong to slam the door shut without due consideration.
"A negotiated solution to a crisis is always preferable and if this possibility is legitimate, I'll give it serious thought," Menendez said. "At the same time, the credible use of military force is necessary to keep on the table."
Two Senate hawks, however, said Obama isn't being strong enough in his response to Assad's use of chemical weapons in August. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released a joint statement saying they "regret that he did not speak more forcefully about the need to increase our military assistance to moderate opposition forces in Syria, such as the Free Syrian Army."
"We also regret that he did not lay out a clearer plan to test the seriousness of the Russian and Syrian proposal to transfer the Assad regime's chemical weapons to international custody," McCain and Graham said.
In his speech, the president talked of diplomatic agreements and international conventions against chemical weapons. But the lawyer in him took a back seat to the father as he repeatedly painted a vivid picture of the suffering caused by Syria's Aug. 21 use of sarin gas against Assad's opponents. Seven times in the 15-minute address, the president spoke emotionally of the children who were killed and maimed in that attack.
"The images from this massacre are sickening," he said. "Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk." Grimly, he urged members of Congress "to view those videos of the attack and then ask, what kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?" Directing remarks to his own political base, liberals, he asked them to think of "those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough."