In US Congress, no party-line vote on force against Syria

The White House will likely gain a majority of House Democrats with the help of minority leader Nancy Pelosi. House Republicans will likely try to amend the resolution to tailor its reach.

September 2, 2013 02:11
2 minute read.
113th Congress in Washington

113th Congress in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – Reacting to US President Barack Obama’s Saturday announcement to ask Congress for authorization on the use of force against Syria, a shocked Washington was able to agree on one point: It’s a risky move.

Members of Congress have been scattered on Syria for months, not unlike the president, who has shied away from the conflict for more than two years. But where defined and consistent policy camps exist, conventional party lines do not apply.

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Humanitarian interventionists are represented in both the far left of the Democratic Party and what remains of the hawkish Republican establishment.

Some Democrats, too, agree with Republican counterparts that the president’s plan for action in Syria has no clear strategic objectives.

Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said he does not plan on reconvening the chamber early from its summer recess, nor would he help whip votes in support of the president’s resolution.

Even with an organized effort to bring the Republican party into agreement, Boehner has struggled to enforce a party line on some basic, uncontroversial bills. Before the Syrian crisis landed on Congress’s doorstep, one wing of the Republican Party was threatening to attempt a government shutdown in the next two weeks.

That wing consists of conservatives with a libertarian streak, keen on limiting spending – even if that means slashing the military budget.

Cutting defense spending is no longer taboo in Washington, and Pentagon officials are aware of the shift. The effects of sequestration on the military, weighed against the costs of any operation in Syria, are sure to factor into the coming congressional debate.

Overlapping with those party members are isolationist Republicans strongly against American tax dollars being spent on foreign aid or expensive military campaigns.

While Congress may find itself in a rare moment on the world stage, many of its members will not care about international opinion. Some have primaries fast approaching in 2014, and they will be averse to the risk of voting to authorize yet another dangerous endeavor in the Middle East.

Establishment Republicans are calling for a demonstration of American strength and resolve. These members have consistently reminded the president of the “red line” he had set out in front of Syria’s President Bashar Assad on the use of chemical weapons, and they will now be challenged to make that red line their own.

The White House will likely gain a majority of House Democrats with the help of minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who has come out strongly in favor of military action. House Republicans will likely try to amend the resolution to tailor its reach. Its current language, written by the White House, leaves open the possibility of strikes against Syria beyond a days-long campaign.

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