Obama administration officials lobbied against a bill that would have sanctioned Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for war crimes in order to salvage Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed ceasefire with Russia, according to reports.
The Caesar Syria Protection Act, named after the Syrian defector who documented 55,000 pictures exhibiting Assad’s torture and murder of civilians, initially had 50 co-sponsors (mostly Democrats), bi-partisan support and was scheduled to be fast-tracked through Congress. That is, until the White House intervened and pushed Democratic party leadership to kill it.
Obama administration staffers called both Republican and Democratic leaders Friday, pushing them to table the bill; effectively preventing it from being passed, according to a piece by The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, published Tuesday.
“After President Obama’s disastrous handling of Syria, he’s now adding insult to injury by pressuring House Democrats to kill a bipartisan bill aimed at cleaning up his mess,” AshLee Strong, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s press secretary, told Rogin. “We hope members will have a chance to vote on this important legislation soon.”
Democratic and Republican supporters of the bill planned to push it through the House of Representatives this week under a special streamlined process that would require two-thirds support for passage. Now that Democratic leadership has pulled out of the agreement, the bill has essentially been hamstrung.
A White House source told Rogin that Democratic leaders voluntarily chose to suspend the bill, but the fact that their reversal coincided with Kerry’s ceasefire with Russia raises serious questions. The bill passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July with little trouble, a rarity in the current bitterly partisan congress.
“It was the desire of the National Security Council that this bill not move,” a congressional staffer told Rogin. “White House legislative affairs staff said the timing was not good.”
Indeed, the timing was not good for Kerry, who recently made a desperate attempt to revive a so-called “cessation of hostilities” with Russia in Syria. The agreement sought to use a seven-day cessation in fighting as an opportunity to hammer out a more permanent agreement, however, the deal was dead on arrival. Multiple Syrian opposition groups refused to sign on to the agreement, while Russia and Assad engaged in one of their deadliest bombing campaigns against civilians ever as soon as it ended Monday. (RELATED: Obama Administration Apologizes To Assad For Bombing Syrian Troops)
The United Nations estimated that as many as 400,000 people have died in the 5-year-long Syrian civil war.
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