Undecided Lawmakers Key to Fate of Syria Vote

Uphill Struggle To Line Up Liberals and GOP Moderates

getty images

By Reuters

Published September 06, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

The fate of a congressional resolution to authorize President Barack Obama’s planned military strikes on Syria hinges on scores of undecided U.S. lawmakers, with party loyalty appearing increasingly irrelevant.

Even after congressional hearings featuring Obama’s secretaries of state and defense, a half dozen closed-door briefings and phone calls from Obama himself, it was too close to call on whether Congress will authorize military force.

Some Beltway analysts say vote counts show a large majority against the measure in the House of Representatives and one congressional {aide told Politico](http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/obama-syria-house-vote-96347.html?hp=t1) it has a less than 40% chance of passage.

No more than around 50 House Republicans are expected to back the president, meaning he needs the vast majority of Democrats.

Jewish groups have openly backed the measure, including the hawkish AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League. But it’s not clear whether that push will resonate with Jewish lawmakers. At least one Jewish liberal, Alan Grayson of Florida, says he will vote against the measure.

Obama asked Congress to back his plan for limited strikes in response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians that the United States blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

First-term Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who had been seen as a possible swing vote, dealt the president a setback when he announced on Thursday he would oppose the resolution to authorize military strikes.

“Given the case that has been presented to me, I believe that a military strike against Syria at this time is the wrong course of action,” Manchin said.

Republican Representative Michael Grimm, who initially backed Obama’s call last month for military strikes, withdrew his support on Thursday. “Unfortunately, the time to act was then and the moment to show our strength has passed,” said Grimm, a Marine combat veteran.

If Obama fails to win congressional support, he would face two undesirable options. One would be to go ahead with military strikes anyway, which could provoke an angry showdown with Congress over their respective powers.

The other would be to do nothing, which White House officials privately acknowledge would damage the credibility of any future Obama ultimatum to other countries.

Twenty-four of the Senate’s 100 members oppose or lean toward opposing authorizing military strikes, according to estimates by several news organizations, with an equal number favoring military action and roughly 50 undecided.

Every vote will count in the Senate, where a super-majority of 60 will likely be needed because of possible procedural hurdles for a final vote on approving military action.

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.