No House Vote On Syria Resolution If Votes Aren’t There?
National Review’s John Fund passes along a report that top Congressional Republicans may not bring the Syria resolution to the floor if its apparent that it would be defeated:
Congressional aides in both parties tell me that the chances of President Obama winning House approval for military action in Syria are so bad they actually doubt the House would ultimately vote on it if failure seemed certain.
“I just don’t believe that if defeat is certain, the House leadership will want to see a president utterly humiliated on the House floor in a public vote,” one top aide to the Republican leadership told me. Should the full Senate vote to approve an attack on Syria — as still appears somewhat likely — the battle would shift to the House. “An attempt would be made to let the whole thing go away. I don’t think it would be done to give the GOP any extra leverage in debt-ceiling or budget negotiations — Obama isn’t the grateful type — but simply because the weakness it would demonstrate wouldn’t be good for the country,” the aide told me.
It’s worth noting, of course, that this is coming from unnamed aides rather than from anyone who is actually part of leadership, so it’s worth taking the report with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, it does raise an interesting point. President’s have lost House votes in the past, but it’s always been on domestic issues. I can’t say I’ve done any significant research on the matter, but I’m fairly certain that there’s no real precedent in recent American history for a situation where a President seeking authorization to use military force has failed to obtain Congressional approval after having made taking that action known to the world in the manner that President Obama had. It’s unclear what impact that would have on the President’s ability to persuade other nations to act on other issues in the future, and one would think that the White House took this possibility into account when they made the decision to take the matter to Congress.
The cynical political observer, of course, will scoff at the idea that House leadership would desire to cut the President a break on this vote out of some sense of patriotism. For the past four and a half years, Republicans have thought nothing of challenging the President at every turn, often under the observation of the rest of the world. Indeed, one could point to the Debt Ceiling debate of Summer 2011 as an example of the House doing exactly what this aide says he doesn’t think they’d want to do this time. Turning down a Presidential request like this would be virtually unprecedented and would arguably be very politically damaging to the President. Why wouldn’t Republicans want to see that happen if they had the power to do so?
Even assuming, though, that the House leadership decided to defer on a vote for the “good of the country,” it’s not clear that this would have any real impact on how the rest of the world reacts. If there’s no vote, and the President doesn’t act on his own, then the consequences would largely be the same as if the House had rejected the resolution. Additionally, it strikes me that not holding a vote on something as important as this would be something of a cop-out. Throughout August, many Members of Congress were calling on the President to seek Congressional authorization before making any move on Syria. As I’ve explained before, I think that this was the right position to take. Like President’s before him, President Obama initially took the position that he didn’t need to seek authorization for the kind of attack he hand in mind. Then, he changed his mind, and made the right decision. Now that the ball is in Congress’s court, they owe it to the country to go on the record, even if it means a rejection of the President’s request. Otherwise, they’re not really doing their job.