If the House voted today on a resolution to attack Syria, President Barack Obama would lose — and lose big.
That’s the private assessment of House Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides who are closely involved in the process.
If the Senate passes a use-of-force resolution next week — which is no sure thing — the current dynamics suggest that the House would defeat it. That would represent a dramatic failure for Obama, and once again prove that his sway over Congress is extraordinarily limited. The loss would have serious reverberations throughout the next three months, when Obama faces off against Congress in a series of high-stakes fiscal battles.
Several Republican leadership aides, who are counting votes but not encouraging a position, say that there are roughly one to two dozen “yes” votes in favor of military action at this time. The stunningly low number is expected to grow a bit.
But senior aides say they expect, at most, between 50 and 60 Republicans to vote with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who support the president’s plan to bomb Syria to stop Bashar Assad from using chemical weapons on his people. That would amount to less than one-third of the House Republican Conference.
That would mean the vast majority of the 200 House Democrats will need to vote with Obama for the resolution to pass. But Democrats privately say that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) can only round up between 115 and 130 “yes” votes.
High-level congressional sources believe there is some time — but not much — for Obama, Boehner and Pelosi to turn things around. But any vote to authorize an attack on Syria will be extraordinarily close, according to people in both parties with direct knowledge of the political dynamics in the House Republican Conference and Democratic Caucus.
Boehner and Cantor back the president’s plan for “limited, proportional” strikes in Syria.Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is not convinced it’s the right decision. McCarthy’s calculus seems to be more in line with many House Republicans — he has spoken to many of his allies in the last week, and the support for a U.S. strike on Syria is incredibly low, sources familiar with those discussions says say.
House leaders plan to takes up the Syria resolution only if it passes the Senate first.
The political climate, of course, can change. Pelosi is a legendary whip and has an uncanny ability to move her members. Since Congress is not in session, many lawmakers haven’t been lobbied by the Obama administration or attended its classified briefings. Obama hasn’t taken to the Oval Office to address the nation about Syria — many hope he’ll do that when he returns from the G-20 in Russia. The White House has already canceled a planned presidential trip to Los Angeles on Monday so the president can lobby lawmakers.
And rank-and-file House Republicans — especially some key members — are holding back their positions, waiting to see what happens next week when Congress returns.
“Republicans have traditionally tended to break toward the president” on national security and defense issues, noted a senior GOP aide. But this aide estimated that the resolution to bomb Syria has only a “30 to 40 percent chance of passing right now.”
POLITICO reported on Thursday that Obama administration officials have reached out directly to one-third of Congress in the last two weeks — at least 60 senators and 125 House members — with more contacts to come, according to a White House aide.
And AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, is poised to mount a major blitz next week in support of the Syria resolution, officials with the group said. AIPAC lobbyists and their supporters have been speaking directly to a number of lawmakers, especially senators, said House and Senate aides.
“At the end of the day, a lot of these Democrats are going to be with the president,” said a House Democratic aide close to the issue. “Because the choice is to vote against [the Syria resolution] and turn the president into a lame duck and destroy his credibility, or swallow it and vote for something that you’re not wild about. When you’re faced with that kind of decision, most of these fence-sitters are going to come aboard.”