Rocky Road Seen for Congressional Authorization of Syria Attack
At present, there is no way to predict which way Congress will jump on the resolution to authorize force against Syria.
On the one hand. you have a sizable number of both Democrats and Republicans who could be considered non-interventionists. The libertarian wing of the GOP seems to have united around the idea of a "no" vote. Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are leading the charge against Syrian intervention in the Senate.
But there are also members like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham who have already indicated they will vote against authorization because the president's actions don't go far enough. Taken together, the doves and hawks might unite, making it a tough coalition to beat and delivering a crushing defeat to the president's meager plans for intervention.
Because Congress will not even begin floor debate until September 9 at the earliest, a question mark will hang over Washington's Syria policy for weeks, punctuated by emotional and probably bitter debate.
That became evident on Saturday immediately after President Barack Obama's surprise announcement that he would seek authorization for limited military strikes in Syria from members of Congress, many of whom, he has complained, reflexively oppose anything he proposes.
No one knowledgeable about Congress was willing to predict with any confidence how it would deal with a resolution to permit strikes in Syria.
The uncertainty is compounded by Obama's often strained and distant relationship with Congress.
A House Democratic aide, on condition of anonymity, said "the vote will depend on the Republicans" because Democrats "will be split down the middle."
Asked how the votes might go in the House and Senate, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said he thought it could be "problematic."
PUBLIC OPINION FACTOR
Some members "may not understand what's happening" in Syria, he told CNN, and "the American people today are not supportive of this. ... I do not think the country is there."
Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: "The decision to get Congress on board when hasn't had a huge amount of success working with Congress strikes me as a gamble.
"The president and secretary of state have tried to signal resolve, but the question becomes - what happens when they don't get the support that they want and what does that mean about the administration's ability to lead the country?"
The Syria issue is highly complex politically, causing divisions both within and between the parties, particularly at the extremes.
Some traditionally liberal Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have been skeptical of intervention, with several dozen Democrats signing a letter on Thursday worrying about getting into an "unwise war."
Some of the most conservative Republicans, such as Michigan Representative Justin Amash, have also expressed skepticism.
There is also a question of timing. Some Congress-watchers are scratching their heads over the lack of urgency displayed by both the president and leaders in Congress. The fact that the president refused to call Congress out of recess for a special session (and that Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid also rejected the idea) points to an almost surreal situation where the country stands on the brink of war and Congress is still enjoying their fun in the sun.
As if to underscore the weirdness, after the president's speech from the Rose Garden yesterday, he got in his limo and was driven to the golf course.
At this point, it looks grim for the president, but he may yet be able to rally his party and pick up just enough Republicans in the House for an authorization to squeak through. I doubt whether the GOP will be in any mood to pull the president's hide out of the fire. Republicans will force Democrats to bear the burden if they want to save the credibility of their party leader.