As the struggle to secure House votes for or against authorization for military strikes in Syria accelerates, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has started making plans to team up with isolationist conservatives to stop the resolution, TPM has learned.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has become the leader of the progressive resistance. He is planning an “ad hoc whip operation,” as he called it in a phone interview with TPM. That includes supplying other aligned members with talking points and giving them the names of undecided colleagues to lobby for a no vote.
Grayson’s office has also been in touch with staffs for Republicans who oppose military action against Syria, such as tea party favorite Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), about crafting an organized strategy for lobbying no votes.
The White House’s repeated briefings on Syria aren’t having the desired effect on members, Grayson told TPM, while the constituents have been clogging congressional phone lines with opposition to military authorization.
“I know a lot of members believe the administration isn’t trying to prove things. They’re trying to monopolize the conversation,” he said. “Constituents have broken through that monopoly. The briefings are not going to make any difference.”
That hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from trying.
The White House held an hourlong conference call Wednesday with the 76-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest subsection of congressional Democrats, to persuade them to back the president on Syria. But reports after the briefing and TPM’s conversations with staffers indicate the call was dominated by tough questions for the administration from the caucus members, and nobody seems to have left with their mind changed in favor of action.
“I’m still undecided on my decision right now,” Rep. Jan Schkawosky (D-IL), one of the progressive caucus’ vice chairs, said in a statement to TPM. She said that the White House’s answers to her questions during the briefing “were helpful but still not sufficient.”
Most Progressive Caucus members were still in the “question-asking stage” after Wednesday’s briefing.
There are too many variables to say for sure how the Syria vote will go. The White House is planning to give a classified briefing Monday to all members, and House Democratic sources have told TPM that they believe classified briefings will help bring skeptical members around.
Most members still haven’t seen any official authorization language — a Senate committee passed its own draft Wednesday — which has some on the Hill warning against giving too much credit to pessimistic early whip counts.
But while the White House makes it case, members are also receiving persistent pressure from progressive grassroots organizations to vote against a Syria resolution. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee circulated a memo Wednesday urging Congress to reject Obama’s proposal, citing a member survey. CREDO, another large progressive group, is planning to deliver 192,000 signatures opposing strikes in Syria to congressional leadership soon.
But are congressional Democrats really going to reject Obama’s proposal, which he has so publicly advocated for? Grayson and other sources insist that the political considerations for the president aren’t going to be the determining factor in the vote.
“It’s irrelevant. That just doesn’t factor into it,” Grayson said.
“People aren’t going to vote in favor of military action to help the president,” a source close to CPC said. “You can lay out political arguments, but I don’t think this is a political vote.”
Though House Democratic leadership has said it won’t whip votes on Syria, as is the custom for war resolutions, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has sent two “Dear Colleague” letters this week urging support for the president. The White House is still holding more briefings and making calls to members. Whip operation or not, the pressure is clearly being applied.
But the early whip counts don’t look too promising, especially among progressives. According to TPM’s vote tracker, CPC members line up like this: 22 no’s and six yes’s with the rest undecided.
The path to victory for Obama in the House, as suggested to TPM by Democratic sources and reported by others like The Washington Post’s Greg Sargeant, is a combination of moderate Democrats and Republicans. But with unlikely alliances like Grayson-Amash starting to form in opposition, it could be a narrow path.