Following President Obama’s rather surprising announcement yesterday that he would seek Congressional approval for the use of military force against Syria, attempts to identify how Congress would vote have become something of a cottage industry. Michael Tomasky, writing at Daily Beast, assumes that such a vote would, essentially, be along party lines which would mean tepid support for an attack in the Senate, rejection by the House:
In the Senate, I presume a resolution will pass. Obama might lose a very small number of Democrats, and maybe Independent Bernie Sanders. But he should get several Senate Republicans—McCain and Graham, their buddy Kelly Ayotte, probably Lisa Murkowski, Bob Corker, a few others who aren’t up for reelection this year and in hiding from the tea party. McCain and Graham will push Obama to do more than he wants, to do a strike that could lead to regime change, but one would hope they can agree on language to make both sides happy. Harry Reid said Saturday he’d try to bring the Senate back early for a vote, meaning it will say yes first, adding to the drama as we turn to the House.
There? Yesterday, I thought the chance the House would pass a war authorization for this president was about 0 percent. Today I’ve revised that up to about 5 percent. I think a certain number will be so favorably impressed/shocked by Obama’s decision to consult them that they’ll be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
I still consider approval a real long shot, though. Consider first the number of possible Democratic defections. So far, we know that 18 Democrats signed a letter circulated by Republicans stating that a strike undertaken without congressional approval would violate the Constitution. That concern is taken off the table, so maybe those 18 will play ball. But you have to think that maybe a couple dozen of the most liberal members, representing districts where three-quarters of their constituents are telling them no, will vote against.
If I’m right about that, it would mean that Obama would need around 45 Republican votes. Possible? I guess. But keep an eye over the weekend on how ferociously the media wingnuts start whipping this vote. What’s Rush Limbaugh going to be saying? He is also bereft of the constitutional argument now, of course, so what’s his new excuse going to be and how hard is he going to push people to oppose a strike? Rand Paul and the other libertarians? The various tea party movements?
That’s consistent with the narrative of implacable Republican opposition to all things Obama but is it correct? My general impression is that the Republicans have actually been quite accommodating to the president in the areas of the military and foreign policy and such opposition as there’s been has largely been kibitzing, i.e. that he hasn’t acted decisively or violently enough, but no disagreement as to his course of action. Am I mistaken?
Writing at Mother Jones, Tim Murphy and Asawin Suebsaeng present a somewhat more nuanced analysis, dividing the Congress into several different groups—Republican anti-interventionists, Democratic doves, the GOP “Maybe-if-You-Ask-Nicely” caucus, a Democratic “Wait-And-See” caucus, the Marco Rubio “We-Waited-Too-Long” caucus, Republican hawks, and Democratic hawks. To those I’d add the Republican “I oppose Obama and all his works” caucus and yellow dog Democrats. Read the whole thing.
At Politico Seung Min Kim, John Bresnahan, and Jake Sherman go back to the history of Congress’s reactions to the Obama foreign policy and, generally, arrive at the conclusion that it’s complicated. Support and opposition go well beyond party lines and neither the House nor the Senate are sure things are either direction.
I honestly don’t know which way Congress will vote. The history of the last almost seventy years has been that members of Congress, more concerned about their own personal political good than the good of the country, have been reluctant to leave their fingerprints on any U. S. military action and I don’t think that has changed. Some are characterizing this as yet another master stroke by President Obama. It might just as easily be an exit strategy.
What does the president actually want to do? I don’t know the answer to that, either. If the president is determined to attack Syria, Congressional approval will give him cover to do it, even in the face of a lack of popular support. If the president is actually reluctant to attack Syria, Congressional disapproval will give him an out for not attacking Syria.
I sincerely hope that, whatever the president actually wants to do, his advisors have counted the votes in Congress for that before he announced he’d seek Congressional approval. IMO the worst possible outcome is that Congress will reject the president’s request at which point he goes ahead and bombs Syria anyway.
So, how will the Congress vote?