Numbers In House Continue To Trend Against Authorizing Syrian Military Strikes

Things aren't looking good for President Obama in the House of Representatives.

syria-obama

The prospect continues to mount that President Obama could suffer a huge foreign policy defeat in the House of Representatives when it votes on a resolution to authorize the use of force in Syria in the next week to ten days:

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

This assessment is seemingly confirmed by looking at the whip counts that various media organizations have been compiling since the President announced he would be asking Congress for authorization to strike Syria:

  • According to The Washington Post, there are 103 Members of Congress who have announced they are presently “No” votes and another 102 who have announced that they are leaning “No” but potentially persuadable. That’s a total of 202 votes, just 16 votes shy of the majority needed to block the resolution. By contrast, to date only 24 Representatives have come out in support of the resolution;
  • The whip count complied by Think Progress has 85 “No” votes and another 132 leaning “No.” By contrast, the have 33 Representatives as “Yes” or leaning “Yes.” That’s a total of 217 “No” or leaning “No,” just one vote short of a majority;
  • ABC News puts the numbers at 71 “No” and 146 leaning “No,” for a total of 217, and only 43 as “yes” or leaning “yes”;
  • The liberal blog Firedoglake has 106 at “No”and 116 at leaning “No, for a total of 222 in opposition, with 62 at “yes” or leaning “yes”;
  • Finally, The Hill has the numbers at just 115 “No” or leaning “No” and 33 “yes” and leaning “yes.”

The numbers for each of these whip counts is updated regularly so they’re likely to be different if you’re clicking on the respective links after Friday morning. You can also find the latest numbers for the Senate, where the date is unclear but passage seems more likely, at those links. In any case, though, the momentum against the resolution is clear and pronounced and, depending on which count you go by, the resolution may already be on the verge of defeat.

The House returns to Washington on Monday, and it’s expected that debate on a resolution will begin in earnest shortly after that. However, given the contentiousness of the issues and the fact that the House GOP leadership is not going to act until they know whether or not a resolution has passed the Senate, it’s unlikely that there will be a vote on the resolution itself until sometime at the start of the week of September 16th. Even if the House does ultimately approve a resolution, though, that might not be the end of the process. There’s a high likelihood that differences will exist between what passes the House and what passes the Senate and, in that case, the two bodies are going to have to find a way to reconcile those differences. Whether what would likely be a fragile “yes” coalition in the House could stay together through that process remains an open question.

All of this portends for an active and historic week in Washington next week. At his press conference at the end of the G-20 Summit, President Obama announced that he would be addressing the nation from the White House regarding Syria on Tuesday, clearly as part of an effort to stem the tide of public and Congressional opposition to taking action against Syria. Some have suggested that it may already be too late for that, but that’s unclear at this point. At the very least, though, at the moment it appears that the Syria resolution would be defeated in the House if a vote were taken today. Whether that changes over the course of the next week remains to be seen.

Note:  This post was updated to include the whip counts from ABC News and Firedoglake.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pharoah Narim says:

    I think they see the irony of a “yes” vote. They have been saying cut, cut, cut, and crying broke, broke, broke, for almost 6 years. Now they are going to green-light an expensive military adventure? The House is crazy…but they aren’t stupid. They would be exposed as hypocrites…perhaps that was the President’s plan all along….

  2. CSK says:

    Ed Markey, Kerry’s replacement in the senate. voted “present.” Not exactly a profile in courage, either way.

  3. Nikki says:

    Obama takes the hit (with Congressional cover, by-the-by), but the GOP civil war ratchets up even higher with Wedge #1 between the fiscal and social cons and Wedge #2 between the TPnut- and the neo-cons.

    Where do you think the next wedge will be and which one can be driven in the deepest?

  4. PJ says:

    @Pharoah Narim:
    The House is advocating that the military should be cut? That’s news to me….

  5. Rob in CT says:

    Anyone whose rep is on the fence: contact them and let them know what you want.

  6. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    They would be exposed as hypocrites…perhaps that was the President’s plan all along.

    Look, I voted for Obama twice. I’d still vote for him again and think, generally speaking, he’s a pretty smart guy. But for the love of Pete, people are taking this 3 Dimensional Chess thing way to far.

    It’s clear that Obama has always had a strong interventionist streak to him. And I think that there’s a large part of him that wants to intervene to protect in this current situation.

    Framing his actions as setting some sort of complex trap for the opposition is as tiresome as all of the “false flaggers” that are coming out of the woodwork. And the fact is both are coming from the same position — the idea that there’s always a grand conspiracy behind any and every action. It’s a tempting concept, but all it does is assure people that someone is always in control.

  7. Laurence Bachmann says:

    @Rob in CT: With 80% polling against intervention one hopes they aren’t that stupid….but you are probably right.

  8. Matt Bernius says:

    @PJ:

    The House is advocating that the military should be cut? That’s news to me….

    Openly, not so much. But if one looks to the aftermath of the 2010 “Tea Party Revolution”, one finds that one of the first places where Bohner lost control of the Freshmen Republican class were when a number of Tea Party members broke with their leadership and voted against a number of military appropriations.

    Frankly the best chance we have at reducing the size of the military budget (and limiting the power of the surveillance state) is via that strange mix of neo-isolationist and libertarian leaning Republicans and ALCU and Anti-War Democrats.

  9. john personna says:

    I think what has been lost in much of the political discussion is that a small military action, an action at the margin, is not meant to cure or fix everything. It need only improve outcomes in a similar small degree, at the margin.

    If you only reduce the scale of future chemical weapons use, in Syria, and elsewhere, it can be a win.

    But to really know if Obama’s plan satisfies that goal, I’d need to know a lot of things only offered in classified briefings … and so I have to hope that those privy are making the cost-benefit analysis.

  10. Rob in CT says:

    JP:

    That makes sense if you believe:

    1) It really will be and remain small scale; and
    2) Small scale will work to acheive its intended purpose (deter chemical weapons use in the future).

    You position is logical. I just disagree with it. I also feel the need to knock down some of the more ridiculous pro-intervention arguments, because they can help lead to a small thing becoming a big one. I remember the run up to Iraq II, where every possible argument in favor was thrown up against the wall to see if it would stick.

    @Matt Bernius:

    I’d like to heartily second this. Obama’s not playing 11th dimensional chess, folks. The guy wants to bomb Syria, quite possibly (not certainly, but I think most likely) for the reasons stated. He is not and has never been a pacifist, isolationist or even a guy with a strong predisposition toward non-intervention.

    The fantasies about how this is really a clever plan to split the GOP or expose GOP hypocrisy or shake the US foreign policy community out of its insanity are, well, fantasies. Things do not work that way and we cannot have magic ponies.

  11. James Pearce says:

    Even if the House balks, this will not stop anything. It will just push it underground. The CIA still has drones don’t they?

  12. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I think the numbers are on my side. We’ve had more small scale interventions than large ones … remember, it’s fair to count drone attacks on Yemen or Pakistan in that total. In the majority of cases, we “prevented” them from turning into Iraq 2.

  13. Scott says:

    @Nikki: Do we really need to make this about partisan politics when it is about real issues of war and peace; life and death? I refuse to be so cynical.

  14. Scott says:

    and so I have to hope that those privy are making the cost-benefit analysis.

    I lost that faith in the Iraq War. Once lost, they have to work extra hard to get it back.

  15. john personna says:

    @Scott:

    Certainly, but there is also the hope that recently-burned, people will be more careful.

    I think the legacy of Vietnam prevented large scale war by the US for many years. Iraq now should also, though if hypothetically a “few cruise missiles” could reduce attacks on civilians, it would be unfortunate to group them with “recently-burned” thinking.

  16. Rob in CT says:

    @john personna:

    The drone attacks in Yemen or Pakistan fall under the rubric of the “War on Terror” which is actually not a small-scale thing at all.

    You really favor this, John?

  17. James Pearce says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Frankly the best chance we have at reducing the size of the military budget (and limiting the power of the surveillance state) is via that strange mix of neo-isolationist and libertarian leaning Republicans and ALCU and Anti-War Democrats.

    Rand Paul?

    The problem with Paul is that he’s been very effective in getting Obama-era Republicans to appear to agree with him. He’s a useful cudgel against the Obama administration, after all. But he is and remains an outlier in his party on national security issues. If and when the Republican party regains the executive office, do you really think they will still listen to him?

  18. Matt Bernius says:

    @john personna:

    We’ve had more small scale interventions than large ones … remember, it’s fair to count drone attacks on Yemen or Pakistan in that total. In the majority of cases, we “prevented” them from turning into Iraq 2.

    You are comparing apples and oranges sir — or rather targeted assassinations (let’s call drone strikes what they are) with trying to influence the behavior of a state actor.

    Th first problem with that is that the continued need for drone strikes — to some degree — demonstrates that they are not completely effective. Each time a head is cut off, another one emerges that also needs to be cut off. The positive side of this is that — hopefully — each new head is less effective than the one who came before. But the fact is that targeted drone strikes still seem to beget targeted drone strikes.

    In the case of Syria, the goal is to change regime behavior. And that could be done through destruction of capabilities (i.e. destruction of stockpiles/factories), but unless I’ve missed something that isn’t on the table (in part out of fear of releasing further chemical agents in the action of attempting to destroy them). So instead the idea is to hurt them enough to make them stop, but not enough to necessarily participate in regime change. But for this to work we need to be prepared to continually escalate our response up to and including regime change — otherwise its an empty threat.

    And that means boots on the ground. Which, btw, we had to do in the case of Kosovo where the goal was to change regime behavior (i.e. stop genocide) and that’s what prevented us from acting in the case of Rwanda.

    People who keep trying to limit this to “just air strikes” while believing that they will be able to be anything more than symbolic as currently described, continue to buy into the same sort of “best case” scenario that Neocons used when they promised that Iraqis will welcome us with open arms and easily transition to a Western Style democracy.

  19. john personna says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    That is made up from whole cloth.

    The White House proposal is very narrow in scope, and you can’t just make a generic slippery slope argument to counter the specifics of that proposal.

  20. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I am wearing my observer’s hat here. I might do things differently if I were President, and try to disengage from interventions in general.

    But leaving that aside I can observe many, many, small interventions which did not bring “boots on ground.”

    Reagan’s attacks on Libya, etc.

  21. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Pearce:
    I wasn’t specifically thinking of Rand Paul (otherwise I would have mentioned him by name). Paul’s Libertarian credentials are completely overblown. He might not be a party insider yet, but he’s far from an outside on most issues.

    Still, personally being more of an ideolog than a partisan, I have no problems partnering with people who, at least in the moment, have similar policy goals. To the degree that Paul is interested in slowing down this IMOH train-wreck of an intervention, I welcome his assistance. And FreedomWork‘s for that matter.

    But that doesn’t mean I’d send either money or vote for them. But there’s nothing wrong with limited partnerships at times. In fact, that’s the way politics is supposed to work.

    But beyond all that, the Senate isn’t the best place to look for change as, by it’s nature, the people who end up populating it are typically far more partisan than ideological. While he may occasionally break from the party on certain issues, Paul is still a Republican first and foremost and will remain so if he wants to keep his seat.

  22. Rob in CT says:

    @john personna:

    What would you say if you took off your observer’s hat (fedora, yes?) and put on your citizen’s hat?

  23. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I would ask my representatives to make a cost-benefit analysis, always managing the potential downside.

    I think that is at once tough and compassionate.

  24. john personna says:

    (If I said “I’m tired of wars, so civilian victims of gas attacks are on their own,” I’d think I was actually taking the easy way out.)

  25. Matt Bernius says:

    @john personna:

    The White House proposal is very narrow in scope, and you can’t just make a generic slippery slope argument to counter the specifics of that proposal.

    As a number of people far more experienced than me have noted, the White House proposal is in many ways very open in terms of scope and the ability to scale the response. For a particularly good summation of the issues see:

    http://www.volokh.com/2013/08/31/thoughts-text-obama-administrations-proposed-authorization-use-military-force-syria/

    Again, I have little doubt that this could end up being a “shot across the bow” air strike. But then again, I also suspect that even if we did nothing, chances are there wouldn’t be further chemical weapons attacks.

    The problem remains, what happens if a shot across the bow isn’t enough? And why do we continue to think that our direct and indirect military intervention have a reliable chance of improving things in the Middle East/Near Asia given the scads of counter-factual evidence going all the way back to at least Lawrence of Arabia?

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Nikki: Obama takes the hit (with Congressional cover, by-the-by), but the GOP civil war ratchets up even higher with Wedge #1 between the fiscal and social cons and Wedge #2 between the TPnut- and the neo-cons.

    So Obama is using the threat of war for domestic political gain? He is threatening to kill Syrians just to mess with the GOP?

    Good to know.

  27. James Pearce says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    While he may occasionally break from the party on certain issues, Paul is still a Republican first and foremost and will remain so if he wants to keep his seat.

    Good point on limited partnerships.

    I, however, do not think Paul wants to keep his seat in the Senate. He has ambitions for another office, and rather than conforming to the party, he seems to want the party to conform to him.

    If that’s the case, Paul may find his limited partnerships much more limited than he can imagine.

  28. Rob in CT says:

    You seem to place a lot of trust in your representatives and the intel they get to see, John.

    I put very little in either, based on past experience.

    And spare me the bit about the victims of the gas attacks. Please. Nobody actually gives a shit about them, John. The civil war has been raging for quite some time, and ~100k have died, many civilians. Nobody lifted a finger. Civilian casualties are a normal and thoroughly predictable consequence of our long-standing War on Terror, and any other military action we take, including lobbing some cruise missles at Syrian military targets in retaliation for gas attacks.

    Ah, it takes me back to the halcyon days of the run-up to Iraq II, when suddenly everybody cared so very deeply for the poor suffering Iraqis (subjected for a decade to our sanctions). Whatever.

    And yes, I’m well aware that I sound angry. I AM angry.

  29. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I think Syria as an echo of the Arab Spring makes more sense. And certainly we, and the international community, have considered every uprising and what could or should be done for civilians.

    If Syria has a bad record which attacks on civilians (and they do) and we have a bad history of noticing that (and we do), is the highest moral ground really to continue the blind eye?

    I think it really comes down to whether we can be compassionate, and then whether the wider world can accept our actions as compassionate. Ideally we’d satisfy both conditions before action.

  30. Rob in CT says:

    If Syria has a bad record which attacks on civilians (and they do) and we have a bad history if noticing that (and we do), is the highest moral ground really to continue the blind eye?

    This ignores the geopolitics, of course. Syria is a client state of Russia and is backed by Iran as well.

    I would like to live in a more compassionate world, John. I do not think bombing Syria, particularly w/o UN backing (which we can’t get because of Russia), moves us in the direction.

  31. Rob in CT says:

    And speaking of compassion, it’s been pointed out over and over that there are compassionate things that could be done (and largely are not being done) that do not involve bombs.

    I’ve given to Doctors w/o Borders in the past. I’ll put them on this year’s list. You do it too.

    We can ask our representatives to up the humanitarian aid we’re providing. If we’re feeling like taking on some risk, we could open our borders to refugees if they want to come here.

  32. Matt Bernius says:

    @john personna:

    If Syria has a bad record which attacks on civilians (and they do) and we have a bad history of noticing that (and we do), is the highest moral ground really to continue the blind eye?

    I have a really difficult buying into the idea that “the highest moral ground” is enacting military strikes in another country — especially when we’ve really screwed up a number of countries in the region through past direct and indirect military interventions.

    I have an even more difficult time when few other countries are willing to take part in said “highest moral ground.”

  33. Nikki says:

    @Scott: At this point, yes I can. Obama is not going to get the Congressional approval he wants and he has already stated that he will not proceed without it. Hence, the cover from Congress–this loss will be a mark on his legacy, but not enough of one to benefit the GOP.

    The Tea Party cons are going to vote “no”; the neo-cons are going to vote “yes”; only center-right Democrats are willing to vote with the president on this and they nor any of the center-left who had his back before will now abandon him because of this stance/failure.

    Preliminary whip counts show that there will not be enough votes in either the House or Senate to get a resolution passed, especially with the mid-terms approaching and the obvious lack of support for more war from the American voters. Heck, a “no” vote would be a campaign issue win for both the left and the right.

    It’s all over, but the voting.

  34. john personna says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    I notice that you argue the generic, intervention good or bad, without connection to the specific trigger, which was use of chemical weapons upon civilian populations.

    I am actually big on self-determination being a responsibility more even that a right, but … we wouldn’t want to reduce ourselves to “those people should get themselves a better government .. except whoops, they’re all dead.”

    The HARD moral questions are about lesser evils.

  35. Nikki says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: This call for war in Syria is not happening in a vacuum. Who knows what the ultimate agenda/goal is for any of the factions in this game of empire? Party politics is still a factor, though, so don’t get all upset with me if I choose to focus on a different angle.

    Obama made a mistake. He will rightly get burned for it; but that mistake also creates more division within the GOP.

    Deal with it.

  36. john personna says:

    Plus, “I hate the War on Terror, so anyone in a terror-ish country is off my moral map” is a bad argument.

    It’s about simplification of mental state, rather than rigorous ethics.

  37. Matt Bernius says:

    @john personna:

    The HARD moral questions are about lesser evils.

    I completely agree. Which is why I have such a hard time with the fact that among Interventionists I’ve seen no discussion of the lesser (and often greater) issues of military intervention.

    Admittedly, part of my hesitance is that, in my sometimes day-job in Anthropology, I’ve become all to aware of how outside interventions by well meaning moral folks often go sadly awry. And that’s before anyone starts dropping bombs.

    Again, if someone can make the case that a limited air strike has a 50% or better chance of improving things on the ground, versus making us feel “like we DID something”, make the case.

    So far, all I’ve seen are attacks on anti-Interventionists for making our cases for why it isn’t a good idea. Negating someone else’s point isn’t making a positive case.

  38. john personna says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “no discussion of the lesser (and often greater) issues of military intervention.”

    Butl, look at the fact that you expand cruise missiles to boots on the ground in every repetition of the argument.j

    That says that you don’t actually have a case against cruise missiles, and only a generic case that cruise missiles always lead to boots … disproved by history.

  39. john personna says:

    Perhaps it would be clearer if I laid out what I think would be the rational and ethical position against:

    “I have looked at all the options available to the US, and all the ways they might dissuade Syria and other nations from the use of chemical weapons on their own populations … and concluded that there is no match, there is nothing we can do, even in a limited action, which would have a dissuasive effect.”

    The problem is that no one really tries that one. It’s too troublesome to actually name small stand-off actions, and so we have generic arguments that anything is “war” and leads to “boots on ground.”

  40. James Pearce says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Again, if someone can make the case that a limited air strike has a 50% or better chance of improving things on the ground, versus making us feel “like we DID something”, make the case.

    It’s not really fair to set this standard without some clarification.

    Define “improve things on the ground.”

    What if the goal is something else?

  41. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Matt Bernius: If viewing geopolitics 2 dimensionally is more comfortable for you then I understand the ease with which one could dispatch with speculation to the contrary. The vote is a target of opportunity….they vote no; it won’t matter…he’ll intervene anyway. They vote yes…he can intervene and twist the knife in his opposition when it comes time to swing focus back to his domestic agenda.

    What gets the American public in trouble is their attention span is the length of a news cycle…meanwhile people with vastly more power, money, and interests utilize psyops and marketing techniques to advance their multi-decade plans to gain and maintain control of world’s resources. You think that’s accomplished playing checkers? I mean… Obama and Kerry are both doing their own interpolation of Bush-Cheney. The irony should alert people that war and peace isn’t as cut and dried as we are led to believe.

  42. Matt Bernius says:

    @john personna:

    Butl, look at the fact that you expand cruise missiles to boots on the ground in every repetition of the argument.

    Because I am linking this to the expressed goals of the statement of force:

    (a) Authorization. — The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to –

    (1) prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or

    (2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.

    No where in there does it just say “Cruise Missiles” or even “Limited only to Bombing.” The president is requesting permission to do whatever is necessary to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons.”

    BTW, note that this order also gives the President permission to attack outside the border of Syria if the outside territory is believed to be transferring weapons to Syria. Is it any wonder why Iran might also be concerned about this?

    (Aside: remember all the people who rationalize Iran’s interest in getting a Nuclear Weapon in part because of what they saw happen in Iraq. This sort of broad and potentially threatening wording kinda keeps proving those fears correct).

    The reason I keep going to boots on the ground is its pretty clear the authorization clearly leaves them on the table. In fact, the very idea of the threat is USELESS without boots on the ground left on the table.

    I wish that advocates for attack would at least be willing to “theoretically” admit to these very clear facts rather than arguing the best case scenario and no sweating the details.