Obama’s Time Running Out for Syria Strike Authorization

The president is likely to get approval for military action in the Senate but many congressmen are not yet convinced.

President Barack Obama and his national security advisor Susan Rice brief Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on the situation in Syria, September 2
President Barack Obama and his national security advisor Susan Rice brief Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on the situation in Syria, September 2 (White House/Pete Souza)

If President Barack Obama has any chance of winning congressional approval for using limited military force in Syria, his national-security team will need to make a better case for action in the next several days. That seems to be the collective judgment of millions of Americans and dozens of members of Congress, most of whom are still on the fence as to whether they should allow the resolution to pass.

constitutionally, the president has the power to act militarily against the regime of his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad without Congress’ approval. Yet in a sign that Obama does not want to plunge his nation into yet another Middle Eastern war without some support at home, he decided to bring the matter up to the legislature last weekend. However, Congress has often disappointed his administration by underachieving or failing to come together to get legislation through.

Using force against Assad in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack last month, which is believed to have killed hundreds of civilians in a suburb of the capital Damascus, is supported across party lines. A substantial number of Democrats are worried about their own president’s plan for military action while a significant number of opposition Republicans appear to be moving closer to approving the use of force.

Yet the president is nowhere near receiving the votes he needs for his resolution to pass in both chambers of Congress. While it is assumed that the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and a few hawkish Republicans have called for military action in Syria for years, will vote in favor of authorization, lawmakers in the House of Representatives are anything but convinced that responding to a chemical weapons violation in Syria is worth the money and risks. According to the latest whip count from the political newspaper Tbe Hill, just 31 congressmen are likely to vote “yea.” This is a dismal number compared to the number of lawmakers who are not persuaded: 138, including 32 Democrats.

A count from The Washington Post paints a similar picture; 226 members in the House are either opposed or leaning against approval, whereas 25 are solid votes for the president.

The Obama White House is clearly concerned by the numbers which is why the president will himself be involved in persuading legislators. Obama and members of his national-security team will be making phone calls to individual congressmen, hoping that a personal touch will sway enough votes to their side. Additional intelligence briefings and caucus meetings will be held for House Democrats, most of whom will need to vote “yes” if the president’s strategy has a shot at succeeding.

More importantly for Obama, however, is using his power of persuasion to get the American public behind him. A vast majority is still opposed to American involvement in Syria’s conflict. The president is scheduled to appear on six television networks on Monday, before delivering a national address from the Oval Office on Tuesday — suggesting he is running out of time to win domestic support for his policy.

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