Secretary of State John Kerry has been careful to stress that President Barack Obama has the right to strike Syria "no matter what Congress does."
The president might have to make good on that claim. The latest whip count by The Washington Post looks bad for the president, with more than 200 lawmakers in the 435-member chamber speaking out against military action in Syria or leaning no. Only 24 have affirmed their support of Obama's plan.
After the Syrian government allegedly launched a chemical weapons attack near a Damascus suburb, it seemed like Obama would authorize a strike without consulting Congress, much like he did in Libya in 2011. Instead, in a surprise decision that could come back to haunt him, Obama opted to make his case before a badly divided Congress that is often incapable of passing even routine legislation.
The Obama administration convinced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to send a resolution authorizing military action to the full Senate — but only by a vote of 10 to 7. Regardless, the resolution has a decent chance of passing there, thanks to the Senate's Democratic majority and a contingent of influential Republican hawks.
As for the GOP-controlled House…let's just say there is a reason Obama canceled his scheduled trip to California next week.
"If the House voted today on a resolution to attack Syria, President Barack Obama would lose — and lose big," say John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman at Politico.
It's not only that Obama can't count on support from a Republican Party that doesn't trust him. Democrats are on the fence, if not in outright revolt. Instead of speaking in front of the AFL-CIO next week, Obama will be working with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to get House Democrats to fall in line, hoping the authorization will pass with a nearly unanimous Democratic caucus and a handful of Republicans.
As the resolution stands now, he probably won't get that support, according to a Democratic House member quoted by The Huffington Post:
Members on both sides [are] undecided, with most (not all) I've talked to feeling extremely uneasy and uncomfortable with this resolution. I think if it went down today, it wouldn't pass the House. People though are truly undecided with concerns in a bipartisan way. The real question is if those who feel uncomfortable with this can be made to be comfortable with a resolution that has a much narrower scope. [The Huffington Post]
It doesn't help Obama that the public is overwhelmingly against a strike. Both Democrats and Republicans have cited polls showing abysmal support for military intervention as a reason to oppose the resolution.
Indeed, Obama may have to do more than sell his plan to Congress, and make his case to the American people. Here's John Stanton and Kate Nocera at BuzzFeed:
Republicans and Democrats alike warned Thursday the White House's poor handling of its Syria messaging efforts has made it increasingly difficult to fall in line, threatening to doom efforts to build congressional support. [BuzzFeed]
However, there is still time left. As Bresnahan and Sherman note, "Pelosi is a legendary whip and has an uncanny ability to move her members." Furthermore, they report that AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, will begin putting pressure on wavering lawmakers next week.
And finally, it's simply not in the Democratic Party's interest to embarrass its leader on what could be the defining foreign policy decision of his second term.
Ultimately, it's too early to declare Obama's plan dead, writes The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump, considering that the "House members responding to the whip counts don't know what they're being asked to vote for," since the resolution hasn't gone through the Senate.
He adds, "Some of the statements (issued as they were by politicians) contain enough wiggle room for members of Congress to maintain consistency in a vote that seemingly contradicts the count."
If Obama wants to avoid a humiliating setback, he better hope that's the lay of the land.
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