Harry Reid has been counting noses in favor of the Syria war resolution and thinks he’s looking at “double-digit defections.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is bracing for double-digit defections in the Democratic caucus on the resolution authorizing military strikes on Syria, which will get a vote this coming week.
The Syria resolution presents Reid with one of the biggest tests of his leadership this Congress and the outcome has significant effects for President Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agendas.
Failure of the measure in the Democratic-controlled upper chamber could spur House Republicans to pick a fight with the weakened president over the budget, as well as embolden the regimes of Iran and North Korea.
“The president’s team has really given him a tough one this time but, as always, when the president asks him to do something, Sen. Reid quickly tries to get it done,” said Jim Manley, a former senior advisor to Reid.
With already four Democratic senators saying they will likely oppose the measure, the pressure is building on Reid to reach out across the aisle.
“If this vote were to fail, it will have huge consequences not only for the president’s domestic policy but also his foreign policy and for the people of Syria. This is about as high stakes as you can get,” Manley added. “How’s Iran and North Korea going to react to a defeat? How are House Republicans going to deal with the debt limit?”
Reid filed the use-of-force resolution on the Senate floor Friday, setting up a Wednesday vote to end debate and move to final passage. The critical cloture vote will happen on the 12-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon and the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attack.
Senators are scheduled to receive a classified briefing on Syria at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Capitol Visitor Center, according to a Democratic aide.
Another Democratic aide said the vote could happen sooner if Republicans waive certain procedural requirements.
Reid needs 60 votes for cloture. If he loses 10 Democratic senators, that means he would need 15 Republicans to reach the magic number. That appears doubtful, as even national security hawks like John McCain have been reluctant to back the president’s play.
But perhaps the president can make a more basic, partisan appeal to Democratic senators:
The prospect of wounding President Obama is weighing heavily on Democratic lawmakers as they decide their votes on Syria.
Obama needs all the political capital he can muster heading into bruising battles with the GOP over fiscal spending and the debt ceiling.
Democrats want Obama to use his popularity to reverse automatic spending cuts already in effect and pay for new economic stimulus measures through higher taxes on the wealthy and on multinational companies.
But if the request for authorization for Syria military strikes is rebuffed, some fear it could limit Obama’s power in those high-stakes fights.
That has left Democrats with an agonizing decision: vote “no” on Syria and possibly encourage more chemical attacks while weakening their president, or vote “yes” and risk another war in the Middle East.
“I’m sure a lot of people are focused on the political ramifications,” a House Democratic aide said.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a veteran appropriator, said the failure of the Syria resolution would diminish Obama’s leverage in the fiscal battles.
“It doesn’t help him,” Moran said Friday by phone. “We need a maximally strong president to get us through this fiscal thicket. These are going to be very difficult votes.”
“Clearly a loss is a loss,” a Senate Democratic aide noted.
Publicly, senior party members are seeking to put a firewall between a failed Syria vote — one that Democrats might have a hand in — and fiscal matters
Democratic senators may not be inclined to give the president what he wants because he is the leader of the party and shouldn’t be weakened going into debates on the budget and debt limit. But the rank and file might see an abandonment of Obama on Syria in a different light. Ordinary Democrats — outside of Obama’s liberal base — want to support him. Polls show that loyal Democrats are the only ones who give the president a plurality on the war question.
But even Obama’s vaunted “grass roots” organization, the OFA, seems to be sitting the Syria debate out. It remains to be seen if the president will activate his vast network of supporters to put pressure on senators to vote his way.
Whatever he does, he’s got to do it in a hurry. While the House has pushed back a vote on the resolution at least a week, the Senate may vote by next Wednesday on cloture.
If that fails, it won’t matter much what OFA and the rest of the Obamabots do.