Cloud Of Uncertainty Hangs Over Syria Vote

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After a roller coaster week, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the Syria resolution as Congress gets closer to a vote on President Barack Obama’s call for military action.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who supports Obama’s push, said she hasn’t whipped members yet and wants the President to make a stronger case for a limited intervention to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons to kill its own people.

“I do think that it would be easier if there was a stronger case being made to the American people,” she told the Los Angeles Times in an article published Friday. “People have to really know more about why the president has made this decision.”Lawmakers cite overwhelming opposition from their constituents, and early whip counts reveal large numbers of lawmakers who are deeply skeptical of military action. At least two Republicans who initially supported the call for intervening — Reps. Mike Coffman (CO) and Michael Grimm (NY) — backed away late this week. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) on Friday became the first member of congressional leadership to say he’s leaning against military action.

Republican presidential hopefuls are also trending against the resolution. Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) voted against it in committee; Sen. Rand Paul (KY) is leading the GOP opposition; Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) appears to be looking for a way out.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who on Tuesday came out strongly for military action, warned Friday that the vote may fail if Obama doesn’t persuade the public. “The speaker has consistently said the president has an obligation to make his case for intervention directly to the American people,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. “Members of Congress represent the views of their constituents, and only a president can convince the public that military action is required. We only hope this isn’t coming too late to make the difference.”

His remarks came shortly after Obama spoke Friday from the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg about the need to intervene in Syria. The president insisted that Bashar al-Assad must be punished for using chemical weapons, but declined to say what he would do if Congress were to vote down the resolution to use force. Obama plans to deliver a speech next Tuesday to press his case for Congress to authorize action.

Members of Congress are demanding that the intervention be limited and worry that the language of the Senate resolution, as written, could get the U.S. further entangled in Syria’s civil war. The sentiment is so strong that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who supports a broader war to topple Assad, said ground troops could lead to Obama’s impeachment.

The Senate is set to vote next week on the resolution approved Wednesday in committee. The House held a hearing this week but hasn’t drafted a measure yet. The debate stands to soak up valuable time for Congress to avoid a government shutdown and debt default.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.
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