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Boehner's Support For Striking Syria Upends Hill Politics

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AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster

Boehner's support changes the politics because scores of lawmakers in both parties have remained skeptical of military intervention in Syria despite the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus. Republicans, in particular, are deeply divided between the foreign policy hawks and a growing strain of isolationists within their tent. (Democrats are also split between war-weary progressives and humanitarian interventionists.)

This sets up a potentially nasty debate between GOP leaders and conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who have been making the case against intervening. The debate will also test the instincts of 2016 presidential contenders like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to remain on the opposite side of Obama.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel made clear that while Boehner supports Obama's mission, it remains the President's responsibility to make the case to Americans and members of Congress. "Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the Speaker expects the White House to provide answers to Members' questions and take the lead on any whipping effort," he said. "All votes authorizing the use of military force are conscience votes for members, and passage will require direct, continuous engagement from the White House."

Boehner's announcement was met with immediate pushback from some of the more conservative members of the GOP conference:



The full-throated support from the Speaker was unusual. He has tended not to wade head-first into internal GOP debates, instead preferring to mediate and let his conference arrive at its own conclusion, which he would support. In this case, he and his No. 2 have stuck their necks out in a way that gives them ownership over the President's mission. It's now up to them to make sure GOP members don't block Obama.

The White House has launched a full-court press to ensure that the resolution passes. Negotiations are underway in the Senate to revise the language of the draft resolution initially proposed by the White House. Agreement on more limited language could be reached as early as Tuesday evening. The administration is not pushing for regime change and opposes U.S. boots on the ground; it wants to launch targeted military strikes at Bashar al-Assad's facilities in an effort to deter him and other dictators in the present and future from using chemical weapons.

Thanks to the GOP leaders' support, ensuring congressional approval of the Syria mission is now Boehner's problem just as much as it is Obama's problem.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.