Obama Facing Uphill Battle Over Syria Resolution

Heading into an intense week of Congressional lobbying, the odds still seem against the Administration on Syria.


The President returned from his overseas trip on Friday afternoon and, since that point, the White House has been on a full court press in favor of a resolution to authorize military force in Syria that, from the moment it hit Congress, was floundering. Last night, Vice-President Biden hosted a dinner for a small group of Republican Senators that President Obama made an “unannounced” appearance at. Earlier in the day, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough appeared on six of the Sunday morning talk shows while Secretary of State Kerry spent the weekend in France trying to round up international support for the President’s plan. Today, we’ll be hearing from former Secretary of State Clinton, who will speak from the White House, and President Clinton will be sitting down for interviews with six different network news programs. Then, tomorrow night, President Obama will address the nation from the White House in prime time. All of this is a rather obvious effort on the part of the Administration to regain the initiative on an issue that has quickly slipped through their hands.

Looking at the numbers, though, it’s unclear just how likely it is they’ll be able to succeed.

First of all, those media whip counts that were updated over the weekend show that the “No” caucus is continuing to mount:

  • The Washington Post has 113 House members saying they oppose military action with another 115 leaning in that direction, for a total of 228 in opposition, well above the number needed to block the resolution. Meanwhile, there are only 25 House members who have come out in support of military action;
  • ABC News has 78 Representatives opposed to military action with another 153 leaning in that direction for a total of 231 in opposition. By their count, there are only 44 Representatives who have announced their support or are leaning in that direction;
  • Firedoglake has 114 Representatives opposed to the resolution and another 133 leaning in that direction for a total of 247 opposed, with only 60 members supporting the resolution or leaning in that direction;
  • The Hill, which has had a more conservative whip count than other media organizations, has 141 Members of Congress either opposed to, or leaning against, military action and 31 in favor or leaning that way.

In the Senate, the numbers remain about the same as the were last week, with most Senators either saying that they haven’t decided which way they might vote or not providing a firm response as of yet. Based on the numbers, though, it seems far more likely at the moment that the resolution has at least a reasonable chance of passing the Senate than that it has even a slight chance of passing the House. That’s why the next several days are likely to be decisive.

On the public opinion side of things, the American people seem to be in about the same place they were two weeks ago.

A new CNN/ORC poll, for example, finds overwhelming opposition to military action in Syria:

 As President Barack Obama presses his case for a strike on Syria, a new national survey shows him swimming against a strong tide of public opinion that doesn’t want the U.S. to get involved.

The CNN/ORC International poll released Monday shows that even though eight in 10 Americans believe that Bashar al-Assad’s regime gassed its own people, a strong majority doesn’t want Congress to pass a resolution authorizing a military strike against it.

More than seven in 10 say such a strike would not achieve significant goals for the U.S. and a similar amount say it’s not in the national interest for the U.S. to get involved in Syria’s bloody two-year-long civil war.


Only the U.S. involvement in NATO airstrikes on Serbia in 1999 during Bill Clinton’s administration split the public down the middle, with 43% supporting involvement and 40% opposing it.

And while 64% supported using ground troops in Iraq in 2003, intelligence indicating Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction was later discredited and has contributed to public doubts about the evidence the Obama administration says it has putting the blame for the attack on the Assad regime.

Fifty-nine percent of people questioned say they don’t think Congress should pass a resolution that would authorize military action against Syria for a 60- to 90-day period and bar the use of U.S. ground troops, while about four in 10 approve of such a resolution.

If Congress shoots down the Syria resolution, the White House has said that the president still has the authority to strike, but in recent days Obama has sidestepped the question. Asked on Friday by CNN senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar what he would do if the resolution failed on Capitol Hill, the president said, “I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate, because right now, I’m working to get as much support as possible out of Congress.”

But the poll indicates Americans are quite clear on this: More than seven in 10 say they would oppose U.S. airstrikes against Syria if Congress does not pass a resolution authorizing such action.

The debate over Syria has caused intra-party divides among both parties: Hawkish Republicans and moderate Democrats say the U.S. should strike, while the libertarian wing of the GOP says involvement is not in the U.S. interest. Liberal Democrats say there are alternatives to military action that haven’t been exhausted.

The poll also suggests those surveyed who identified themselves as Democrats and Republicans don’t see eye to eye on the resolution. Fifty-six percent of Democrats think Congress should pass it, but only 36% of Republicans and 29% of independents say the same.

“Bringing Congress into the equation seems to have added a political dimension to the Syria debate,” Holland said. “Once Congress makes up its mind, however, the gap between Democrats and Republicans nearly vanishes.”

A Gallup survey published late last week, meanwhile, shows that military action in Syria would be the least popular such action in the past three decades:


Gallup Syria


The White House’s hope, quite obviously, is that the media blitz that has happened over the past couple days, and which will hit its high watermark on Tuesday night, will be just the thing to start turning things around both on Capitol Hill. However, it’s unclear exactly what a concentrated media blitz in which the Administration is making the same arguments that it has for weeks, if not months, is actually going to accomplished. The question of American involvement of some kind in the Syrian civil war has been a point of public debate virtually since the war started and, as Daniel Larison notes, the American public has made it’s opinion quite clear:

Most Americans don’t want to be on the side of any Syrian faction. They never have. Americans haven’t supported arming rebels in Syria, they don’t want U.S. forces in Syria, and they have said time and again that they don’t want the U.S. to bomb Syria. For a while, it seemed as if the administration was paying attention to this, but through his own mistakes Obama has managed to put himself on the wrong side of public opinion anyway

It’s difficult to see how a media blitz and one speech are going to turn that around, especially since the White House isn’t saying anything different from what its been saying all along.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    If America had a UN resolution and 25-30 countries on board, that’s one thing.

    But even the Brits are sitting this one out. America’s ongoing failure to govern will reach a tipping point should the House vote NO and the President attacks. The Senate outcome seems pointless at this stage.

  2. Lit3Bolt says:

    Come on, Obama! Did we learn nothing in 2002? You don’t roll out a new product in August!