That was the assessment on Sunday, not of an opponent but of an early and ardent Republican supporter of Obama's plan for attacking Syria, the influential Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers.

Rogers said that the White House had made a "confusing mess" of the Syria issue. Now, he said, "I'm skeptical myself."

Congress will be in session on Monday for the first time since the August recess. Debate on Syria could begin in the full Senate this week, with voting as early as Wednesday. The House of Representatives could take up the issue later this week or next.

Obama is expected to spend the next several days in personal meetings with members. Some Democratic opponents of a military strike, meanwhile, were looking for a way to spare Obama's administration the effects of a "no" vote.

Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts suggested that the president withdraw his request before it is defeated, saying that there was insufficient support for it in Congress.

There are no signs that Obama is considering that, but speculation about the possibility that the administration might delay a vote surfaced on Sunday when Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Paris after meeting Arab foreign ministers, did not rule out returning to the United Nations Security Council to secure a Syria resolution.

A US official who asked not to be named later squelched that speculation: "We have always supported working through the UN but have been clear there is not a path forward there."

Obama is scheduled to address the American public on television on Tuesday, but even his political allies fear that his acknowledged power as an orator will be tested, given that polls show a majority of Americans opposed to his plan for military action.

White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough suggested that the speech will repeat points Obama has already made several times.

"What he'll tell the country is what this is, which is a targeted, limited, consequential" use of military force, McDonough said on a TV shows.

"He'll also tell the country what this is not. This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan. This is not an extended air campaign like Libya."


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