McCain has guarded optimism after White House meeting on Syria

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President Obama met Sunday with Sen. John McCain, considered his closest Republican ally on Capitol Hill, in his effort to win congressional support for a punitive military action against Syria, as the Pentagon prepares the Nimitz aircraft carrier group for a potential strike.

The Arizona senator has emerged as one of Obama’s top Capitol Hill negotiators on several recent Capitol Hill deals, most notably with the president’s immigration-reform initiative that needed Republican support to pass in the Senate.

This time Obama will need Republican support, particularly in the GOP-led House, to get Congress to vote in favor of his plan to launch a military strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the administration says ordered an Aug. 21 sarin-gas attack that killed more than 1,400 of his own people.

McCain emerged from the roughly one-hour meeting saying that Congress voting against a strike would “undermine the credibility of the president of the United States and America. … But we have a long way to go.”

He also echoed the Capitol Hill focus that has emerged since Obama said Saturday that he would strike Syria — making sure the effort is clearly intended to oust Assad and helping the rebels.

“What we want to do is degrade Assad’s capabilities and upgrade that of the rebel forces,” McCain said.

McCain was joined at the White House by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fellow Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Graham emerged from the meeting with similar remarks, adding that he is seeing signs that the White House is moving toward a more clearly defined mission.

“I can’t sell an attack like the ones on Iraq and Afghanistan because I don’t want to,” he also said.

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