John Fund, who has talked to several aides on the Hill from both parties, thinks there is a growing possibility that the resolution authorizing military force in Syria may not even make it to the floor for a vote.
President Obama’s aides say he will begin lobbying Congress personally after he returns from the G-20 summit in Russia late tonight. But his troops have been oddly nonchalant about building support. Organizing for America, the Obama political action group, has been silent and hasn’t communicated at all with its millions of e-mail subscribers about putting pressure on Congress. The White House’s legislative-affairs office has talked with only about 30 percent of House members so far — and some of those contacts are two weeks old.
“I just don’t believe that if defeat is certain, the House leadership will want to see a president utterly humiliated on the House floor in a public vote,” one top aide to the Republican leadership told me. Should the full Senate vote to approve an attack on Syria — as still appears somewhat likely — the battle would shift to the House. “An attempt would be made to let the whole thing go away. I don’t think it would be done to give the GOP any extra leverage in debt-ceiling or budget negotiations — Obama isn’t the grateful type — but simply because the weakness it would demonstrate wouldn’t be good for the country,” the aide told me.
Rich Lowry points out the quiescence of the president’s congressional lobbying shop as one reason why the vote is in such massive trouble:
I was just talking to a Capitol Hill source who thinks there are maybe two dozen Republican votes for the authorization, no more — and there probably won’t be more. It’s hard to know because the situation is fluid, and the vote is so sensitive that Republicans members don’t even want the leadership keeping a tally of votes, for fear that it will lead to an effort to influence them.
He cites a couple of incidental factors at play here:
1) The debate started while members were scattered to the winds on recess, making it impossible for the White House to do any persuasion in person;
2) The chickens are coming home to roost in terms of the non-existent White House relationship with Capitol Hill. He shared a few stories of the chief White House lobbyist either not knowing key players he should know or not being recognized himself by key players (tellingly, my source doesn’t know his name);
3) Even as the vote is swinging the wrong way, there seems to be no urgency on the part of the White House, which should be in a near panic.
The latest WaPo whip count hasn’t changed much since yesterday. Apparently, members are willing to wait until the president speaks to make their feelings known, The current count is 225 members opposed or leaning that way to 25 members in support.
Even GOP leaders who have no use for Obama may pull the measure from consideration in deference to the notion that a US president cannot be seen as a eunuch in his own legislature. In dangerous times, neutering the president could cause adversaries to miscalculate, leading to unintended consequences.
On the other hand, Russia and Iran aren’t doing their cause any good by becoming more bellicose. Obama might appeal to members on the basis that we shouldn’t be pushed around by Moscow or Tehran with their threats and movements of military assets.
And the Russians’ ham-handed offer to send a “parliamentary” delegation to lobby the US Congress has made them look like they’re sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong:
The speaker of Russia’s national legislature said Friday that a plan to send a parliamentary delegation to Washington to try and convince U.S. lawmakers that a unilateral military intervention in Syria would be unwarranted and counterproductive had been cancelled.
Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the State Duma, said the delegation would no longer travel to the U.S. and called the decisions by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to refuse to meet their Russian counterparts deplorable.
Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson confirmed Thursday that Reid had turned down the offer. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker had also declined the offer.
“We are really disappointed by their decision not to meet with their Russian colleagues,” said Russian Embassy spokesman Maxim Abramov on Thursday after the U.S. congressmen made their decisions public.
Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the delegation on Monday.
What did they expect? A decision on going to war potentially influenced by a possible adversary? Did they think we’d roll out the red carpet for them?
As for the vote, a seismic shift in opinion would have to take place among House members for the president to prevail. No doubt Obama will make both a partisan appeal to the personal loyalty he thinks Democrats should feel toward him, as well as an attempt to portray the action against Syria in the context of US credibility in the region.
Since the president has never demonstrated personal loyalty to many Democrats, it is doubtful they will feel any loyalty toward him. And as for his “credibility,” he shot that bolt long ago.