It has been a week since President Barack Obama made the decision to take his plans for military action in Syria to a vote in Congress. And in that week, Congress has seemingly only progressed further away from approving those plans.
The whip counts in the House, particularly, don’t look good for Obama. ThinkProgress has 217 House members at a firm “no” or leaning “no,” which is right on the cusp of a failure already. The Washington Post puts the count of “no” votes at 205. The Hill has the most sober count of “no” House votes, at just 114.
The feeling is clear: Though the Senate might approve its resolution for a strike, the House is potentially lining up to hand Obama a historic defeat on Syria.
This is no small problem for Obama, who likely has only a few days left to sell his plan after returning home from Russia and the G20 summit. Though he made a politically savvy decision to get Congress involved in the deliberations, there is plenty to suggest that Obama is staking much of his second-term credibility on the passage of the resolution and on his Syria strategy overall.
These two paragraphs from the New York Times sum up what the White House thinks about the implications of the vote:
In private, Mr. Obama and his team see the votes as a guidepost for the rest of his presidency well beyond the immediate question of launching missiles at Syrian military targets. If Congress does not support a relatively modest action in response to a chemical attack that killed more than 1,400 people in Syria, Obama advisers said, the president will not be able to count on support for virtually any use of force.
Although Mr. Obama has asserted that he has the authority to order the strike on Syria even if Congress says no, White House aides consider that almost unthinkable. As a practical matter, it would leave him more isolated than ever and seemingly in defiance of the public’s will at home. As a political matter, it would almost surely set off an effort in the House to impeach him, which even if it went nowhere could be distracting and draining.
What has gone so wrong? Forecasts were bullish on Tuesday, after House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor all jumped on board with Obama’s plan.
But Boehner’s office was quick to point out that it was Obama’s “responsibility to make his case to the American people and their elected representatives.” And so far, his administration “hasn’t been doing a very good job” of that, according to an aide from a still-undecided Democratic House member.
In the strange politics of war, an unlikely coalition of liberal Democrats and increasingly libertarian Republicans have teamed up to be vocal in their opposition of engagement in another conflict. And undecided members — the moderate Republicans and the Democrats who usually vote with fellow Democrats and Obama — keep coming out of classified and unclassified briefings even less likely to support the plan.
Upon coming out of a classified briefing on Thursday, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) said that she was opposed to a strike on Syria “now more than ever.”
And the public is even further behind. Just 29% of Americans support military strikes on Syria, while 48% oppose, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Tuesday. Obama said that he will address the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night. But how many people will one address really persuade?
Things can change, of course, particularly if Pelosi and Boehner go beyond making Syria a “conscience vote” and start whipping their members. But right now, one GOP aide said it has less than a 40% chance of passing the House.
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