Skip to comments.Tallying the House Vote on Syria: It's looking horrible for the President
Posted on 09/09/2013 7:02:09 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
Right now, the number of House Republicans planning to back the Syria resolution is stuck at about two dozen, according to the unofficial count several aides are keeping. Were not counting for the conference, but some of us are keeping tallies, and its looking horrible, says a source within the leaderships circle. Id say 30 to 40 Republicans, at most, are privately supportive.
In the coming days, insiders say, the number could tick up or down. Any fluctuation, however, will be based almost entirely on how the top players influence their colleagues. Since the leadership isnt formally whipping, member-to-member consultation is critical and the following Republicans are jostling behind the scenes to shape the cloakroom debate.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.)
Cantor is coordinating the effort to boost Republican support. Ever since he endorsed a military strike, in a statement last week, he has been working the phones and softly selling the merits of intervention. Last Wednesday, he participated in a conference call with House GOP freshmen in which he outlined his position and analyzed the Syrian crisis. One Republican who is opposed tells me the call was instructive, candid, and may have changed a few minds. A day later, Cantor invited Eric Edelman and Stephen Hadley, two former advisers from George W. Bushs administration, to brief Republican staffers. And on Friday, Cantor published an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. His pitch: Syria is more than a civil war; its a proxy war for Iran that demands engagement.
I think the majority leader has been instrumental, says Representative Richard Hudson, an undecided freshman from North Carolina. That op-ed was important to me because I was looking to see and read more from our leadership. Stephen Hadleys perspective has also had some bearing on me.
Look for Cantor to keep making this case, even though the leadership has no official position. For the past few years, he has made foreign policy, particularly Middle East issues, a priority, and his aides say hes comfortable taking on a larger role in shepherding talks among Republicans. Last month, he visited Israel, where he stood on the Syrian border and could hear the rumble of battle in the distance. His commitment to the cause makes him a force and the White Houses best ambassador to wary conservatives.
Speaker John Boehner (Ohio)
Boehner, like Cantor, is supportive of the presidents proposal, but he has been more hands-off in dealing with House Republicans than the majority leader has. He announced his position after last weeks White House meeting, but since then he hasnt wooed rank-and-file members or published any op-eds, and he has declined every Sunday-show invitation. Boehners aides say the speaker believes that the pressure is on the president and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi to deliver votes, and hes focused almost entirely on keeping his fragile conference together ahead of the falls fiscal dramas.
Theres no whip list since this is a conscience vote, and the speaker is acting accordingly, says an aide familiar with Boehners strategy. Hes going to come back this week and spend a lot of time listening to his members.
But Boehners reluctance to say much publicly doesnt mean hes absent from the discussion. His first vote in Congress, after being elected in 1990, was to authorize the Gulf War, and he has long been a hawk. Sources close to him say hell try to bolster GOP support without strong-arming anyone. Case in point: His staff is advising White House chief of staff Denis McDonough about what the president needs to say on Tuesday to win Republican votes.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.)
McCarthy is still undecided, and guessing how hell vote is a favorite parlor game of House staffers. McCarthy often sides with Cantor on policy matters, so its unusual for him to be openly unaligned and uncertain as the third-ranking Republican.
McCarthy is reportedly unconvinced by the White Houses pitch for military involvement. His confidants say his discomfort reflects the stance of many in the House GOPs younger bloc, most of whom were elected amid tumult in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade. Those members, McCarthy included, have been molded by the their constituents war-weariness. Kevin has been getting the same overwhelming number of negative calls about Syria as the rest of us have, says a House member who is close with McCarthy. I dont think hes rattled by the calls, but his political antennae sense danger.
Im right with McCarthy in that undecided category, says Representative Phil Gingrey (R., Ga.). When I sat there at the classified briefing on Friday, nothing I heard really changed my mind. I remain very concerned, and my constituents in the eleventh district are very much opposed to this. Were all concerned about the domino effect, should we go in there and do this. Im also concerned about the evidence on the chemical weapons; Im still unsure.
McCarthy, though, isnt expected to make a splashy break with Boehner and Cantor on Syria. Instead, hell probably keep a low profile and function as a neutral adviser to members, providing them with educational materials and legislative updates. Working with his deputy whips, hell also keep Boehner and Cantor apprised of the conferences pulse. He might end up as a no vote, but he doesnt want to be cast as a dove.
Representatives Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.)
Cotton, age 36, and Kinzinger, age 35, are both charismatic military veterans with growing clout. Theyre also leading the Republican push among freshmen and sophomores to authorize force against Bashar Assad. Last week, Cotton organized his own conference calls with younger members, including frequent critics of the leadership, who wanted to hear the pro-war case from a fellow tea-party conservative. Kinzinger, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a favorite of the leadership, garnered headlines when he went after Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for saying that U.S. military personnel in Syria could end up serving as al-Qaedas air force. Kinzinger called it a cheap line.
Cotton and Kinzinger have provided friends in the House with information and insights on Syria. Late last week, Cotton and Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas, another Army veteran, co-wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post about why Republicans, even if they dont trust the presidents judgment, should support military action. Congress shouldnt guarantee a bad outcome for our country because of fears that the president will execute an imperfect military campaign, they wrote. A conservative aide tells me the op-ed has been passed around like the Jerry Maguire memo.
Look for both Cotton and Kinzinger (as well as Pompeo) to speak up on Tuesday morning when House Republicans hold their first post-recess conference meeting. If they can move even a handful of their colleagues toward a yes vote, it could mean the difference between passage and failure.
Representative Peter King (N.Y.)
King returns to Washington, D.C., this week as the best-known hawk in the House. Rhetorically and in terms of press attention, hes the lower chambers version of Senator John McCain of Arizona a frank, outspoken, and media-savvy operator, but one with limited means of corralling votes. Nevertheless, King has an important role because he adds flair and oomph to the more subdued maneuvers of Cantor, Boehner, Cotton, and Kinzinger. He also commands the respect of the House GOPs old bulls and Northeast moderates.
In an interview, King tells me hes gearing up for a range of activities intended to stoke Republican support, from TV appearances to huddling with undecided members. Ive held off on calling people during the break, since people are busy with their districts, but Ive set up some face-to-face meetings, King says. This isnt going to be a lobbying effort, per se, because of the nature of the vote and how its being handled by the leadership. But I am trying to build a consensus on the overall policy that we need to pursue and trying to combat the isolationists in our party.
King cautions that though he may be able to sway a few members, its up to the president to close the deal with House Republicans. I dont know how he gets there unless he starts to seriously talk about the threat to U.S. interests, and at this stage, winning over people wont be easy, he says. Theres a lot of frustration generally with the president and how he has handled Syria. His speech [in Sweden] last week about the red line and Congress didnt help him.
Representative Devin Nunes (Calif.)
Nunes, a member of the Houses right flank who is opposed to military intervention, is working with Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is also opposed, to urge Congress to pursue a diplomatic response to Assads use of chemical weapons. Nunes, like McCarthy, comes from a Western district thats deeply skeptical of the president, but he doesnt want to ignore the civil war. Rather, hed like the administration to come up with a long-term diplomatic strategy for the whole region. He and Manchin both hope that anti-war Democrats and conservative critics can jointly seek a third way on Syria.
Republican hawks are worried that the Nunes-Manchin proposal could peel away support for a strike, but no one knows at this point how much support their proposed resolution might garner. In the meantime, keep an eye on Nunes as he works the halls of the Capitol. If his plan gathers steam with conservatives, it could kill the White Houses hopes of winning an authorization for war. House Democrats, who are hardly rushing to support a strike, could be tempted to sign on, and House Republicans would be able to tell constituents that they have a plan to deal with Assad, even though theyre not for war. If Obamas resolution is defeated, you may see members from both parties rally behind this kind of legislation, predicts one House Republican aide.
Representatives Justin Amash (Mich.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.)
Massie and Amash, two former Ron Paul supporters who are now young anti-war congressmen, are the libertarian counters to Cotton and Kinzinger. Theyre also the liaisons in the House for Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul plans to meet with both of them this week as he looks to foment opposition to Boehner and Cantor. A breakfast hosted by Paul for his conservative House partners Amash, Massie, Scott Garrett (N.J.), Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.), among others is already in the works.
The duo doesnt represent the majority view of the GOP on foreign policy, but their fierce statements have permeated the Houses internal debate on Syria and fed into the widespread indecision in the conference. They had a similar impact this past July when Amash nearly passed his amendment to curb the National Security Agencys surveillance capabilities. The Paul wing isnt dominating, but its certainly scoring points, says an Amash ally.
Amash and Massie will be a headache for both the GOP leadership and the White House as the Syria resolution moves forward. Both men were involved in the attempted coup against Boehner earlier this year, and they have no reservations about calling out the speaker. Theyre also popular with many of the Rights anti-war activists the same activists who are calling members in droves and causing even the hawks to grow leery. If they gain traction, the chances for passage will shrink.
Representative Mike Rogers (Mich.)
Rogers, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is being counted on by the GOPs hawks to quietly whip his Republican committee members to fall in line behind a Syria resolution. The leadership also hopes that this powerful chairman can function as an emissary for Boehner and Cantors position, since the leadership, due to the nature of a conscience vote, can say only so much.
Members say Rogers has spoken during recent phone calls about the gravity of the chemical-weapons attacks and the need for stability in the region. Hes expected to host more meetings this week. But no one is ready to say hell be able to win a host of converts. An aide close to the committee say Rogers was more optimistic a week ago that Republicans would come his way, but now he has told his confidants that hes not so sure. Since this isnt a Republican initiative or a black-and-white war, its been hard, the aide says. He thinks the president sent this to Congress then walked away without putting in the time to actually get it through.
The credibility gap there is huge, Rogers said on CBSs Face the Nation on Sunday. They need to regroup here, think about where they want to go, and make this about Americas national security. . . . It has been a confusing mess up to this point and that, I think, has been their biggest challenge.
Representative Buck McKeon (Calif.)
McKeon, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, understands the need to take action in Syria, but he differs from Rogers in that he wants to cut a deal with the White House on sequestration before committing to aye. Speaking on CNNs State of the Union on Sunday, McKeon reiterated that unless the White House puts on the table a restoration of funding for several sequester-related defense cuts, hell continue to sit on his hands.
Its a tragedy all the way around, McKeon said. Its immoral to be using chemical weapons, obviously, against your own people. By the same token, Im concerned about the morality of sending our own troops into harms way without providing for the things they need. . . . Were asking them to do more with less.
McKeons view isnt widely shared by Republicans outside of defense-heavy districts, but its influential because he is a leading hawk and he is not helping Boehner and Cantor build Republican support for the resolution. That makes the job of King, Rogers, and the other interventionists more difficult. In the middle of a war debate, McKeon wants to have a debate about the military budget. If more Republicans take McKeons tack, it will further hamper the resolutions chances.
Representatives Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Tom Price (Ga.)
Ryan and Price, chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the House Budget Committee and good friends are two of the most influential names in House conservative politics. The former was just on the national ticket as Mitt Romneys running mate, and the latter is a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus. They also remain undecided and havent weighed in on Syria beyond terse statements. Other undecided conservatives will closely watch how they break on Syria. An endorsement of action from either could shift momentum toward the hawks.
But continued indecision or eventual opposition from Ryan, Price, and the dozens of other House Republicans like them could cripple the resolution before it even hits the House floor. House aides say more than 100 Republicans remain undecided, but it will be up to the White House, more than Boehner and company, to get enough of them for passage.
I know Denis McDonough is working the Senate, but we need to see more on our side, says the leadership source. The White House isnt doing enough. If they cant get it together soon, this thing will go down.
Robert Costa is National Reviews Washington editor.
Two dozen to be sent to the woodshed next election!
It looks as though the adults are going to refrain from giving the 10-year old the keys to the liquor cabinet and a loaded gun. That’s a shame.
Democrats are feverishly working behind the scene to swing enough votes through blackmail, favors, payoffs, threats and arm twisting.
The same way they got Obamacare passed.
President?, What "President"? The indonesian/kenyan in the white hut?
I have absolutely no doubt that Weeper of the House Boehner, along with his faithful sidekick Cantor and his Band of RINOs will ride to Hussein's aid.
Get rid of them !
“Hoorible for the POTUS” actually means GOOD for the rest of us.
Ain’t politics wunnerful?
I’ve worked for Eric Cantor for years. Met him many times. I used to go to his “Republican Round Up” party every year in Richmond. Brought my wife and kids. I’ll never lift a finger or vote for him again.
This will be a certain career-ending vote for Congresscritters on both sides of the aisle.
When it comes to the vote the Dems will fall in line behind Zero — as will the RINOs who will no longer be able to hide their true allegiance.
Supporting an Islamic rebel faction over a secular dictatorship? Where are the US interests involved? Help Israel and that's it.
. The only explanation that I can think of is that they really really believe the stuff about democratizing every part of the world.
It is one of the false presuppositions of some forms of Neo-Conservatism--it's just Woodrow Wilson all over again making the world safe for democracy IMO...
Cantor published an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. His pitch: Syria is more than a civil war; its a proxy war for Iran that demands engagement.
That may be true, however the engagement should be
IN IRAN not Syria.
No more proxy war.
Take the war to THEM.