Undecided Lawmakers Key to Fate of Syria Vote

Uphill Struggle To Line Up Liberals and GOP Moderates

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By Reuters

Published September 06, 2013.
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A count by the Washington Post listed 103 members of the House of Representatives as undecided, of whom 62 are Democrats. There are 433 members currently sitting in the House.

Party loyalty, which drives most issues in a Congress known for its partisan gridlock, was becoming increasingly irrelevant, particularly among Obama’s fellow Democrats. Some Democratic liberals who usually line up behind Obama’s policies have expressed reluctance to back an attack on Syria.

‘I’M AN ADULT’

“I support the president,” said Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell, who remained undecided.

“I want him to succeed. But he isn’t asking me to be - nor will I be - a lap dog. So I will make my own decision. I’m an adult,” Pascrell said.

Republicans have opposed Obama on a host of issues in Congress - and those aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement appear likely to do so on this matter. But other Republicans who favor strong American engagement internationally are lining up behind the Syria military strike authorization.

Most House Republicans are expected to vote “no,” even though their top two leaders, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have endorsed the military strikes.

While Obama administration officials continued to express confidence about ultimately winning congressional support, it was clear on Thursday that their blitz of briefings was not having the desired impact, especially with many lawmakers reporting opposition to strikes among their constituents.

Manchin said he listened to the concerns of thousands of people in his home state of West Virginia, attended hearings and briefings, and spoke with former and current military leaders.

In a statement, he said that “in good conscience, I cannot support” the resolution authorizing force and that he will work to develop other options. “I believe that we must exhaust all diplomatic options and have a comprehensive plan for international involvement before we act,” Manchin added.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski told reporters, “I have more questions than I have answers, and I hope to get them over the course of today and tomorrow.”

She spoke as she entered the latest closed-door session on Thursday with Obama’s national security team, only to emerge two hours later saying she still had “more questions.”

“What we heard today made a compelling forensic case that, one, nerve gas was used, and number two, that it was used” by Assad’s forces, Mikulski said. “The next step, then, has to be … what is the way to both deter and degrade his ability to ever do it again? … Does a military strike do that?”

FIRST HURDLE CLEARED

The Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House both must approve the measure. It cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the resolution by a 10-7 vote - with Democrats and Republicans voting on both sides of the issue.

The full Senate is likely to begin voting next Wednesday, a Senate aide said. It will start with a vote on an anticipated legislative roadblock by Republicans, and then move on to a vote on the resolution to authorize the use of force, the aide added.

The timing of a vote in the House remained unclear.

Memories of the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still fresh in the minds of members of Congress, leaving many in both parties worried that a military strike could lead to a longer and larger U.S. engagement in Syria.

If Obama is going to win passage of the measure in the House, he must convince fellow Democrats like Representative Zoe Lofgren and Pascrell.

The two liberals have been reliable Obama allies on a crush of issues since Obama entered office, but now voice plenty of questions and concerns about his bid to attack Syria.

Lofgren joined a conference call for House Democrats on Monday given by Obama administration officials. Lofgren complained that the briefing did not provide nearly as much information as she had sought and disliked at least a portion of Secretary of State John Kerry’s presentation.

Kerry invoked memories of Nazi Germany when he told the House Democrats that the United States faces “a Munich moment” in deciding whether to wage military strikes against Syria.

“I thought it was a very unfortunate comment. We need facts, not overheated emotional rhetoric,” Lofgren said.


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