The Key Players in the Syria Debate
A congressional coalition of the political willing seems to be coalescing around approval for a strike against Syria.
President Barack Obama's meetings over the past 48 hours, especially with Republicans, have started to turn the tide after the president's clumsy and poorly advanced speech on Aug. 31 to announce he would seek congressional authorization.
Senate committee approval is expected soon and it's probable the full Senate will vote for the resolution next week; supporters are aiming for 70 votes. That would include almost all the Democrats and more than one-third of Republicans. Passage would put pressure on the Republican-led House to act expeditiously.
With the caveat that there's much that still can go wrong, a guide to the key players:
-- The Iraq Nine: There are nine progressive Democratic senators who voted against the Iraq War resolution in 2002: The White House is close to winning the support of all those members. They include Dick Durbin, the Senate majority whip, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Barbara Boxer, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Mikulski, Debbie Stabenow, Ron Wyden, Jack Reed and Patty Murray.
-- The Old Orrin: To get 16 or 17 Republicans -- a tall order -- supporters need to go beyond the small band of moderates and allies of John McCain, and pick up some bona fide conservatives. The backing of Utah's Orrin Hatch, a 79 year-old in his seventh term who may feel freer after surviving a right-wing challenge last year, would send a signal.
-- The Non-Crazy Right: Supporters in the House got a lift this week from the backing for a strike of Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers. Still, much of the Obama-hating House Republican caucus wants to vote no. Again, if an influential conservative, such as Texas's Mac Thornberry, the probable next chairman of the Armed Services Committee, offers his support, it would matter; the same is true of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce.
-- The D'Alesandro Touch: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- who learned politics growing up in Baltimore, where her father and brother, both named Thomas D'Alesandro, served as mayor -- realizes a rejection would be a disaster for Obama and Democrats. There is strong resistance from the party's left wing, including members of the Black Caucus and the staunchest foes of the Iraq War. Pelosi has clout with these members.
-- The Shy Israel Lobby: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most fierce and effective lobbies in Washington, kept a low profile until very recently; Israel doesn't want to be the issue. That is changing: Aipac has publicly backed the measure and privately is turning up the heat. This could influence some liberal Democrats with large Jewish constituencies, as well as conservative Republicans who have adopted a strong pro-Israel position.
-- Faraway 2016: Then-Senator Hillary Clinton's vote to authorize the war in Iraq is said to have cost her the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Actually, the bigger problem was the way she mishandled the issue in the campaign.
Senator Rand Paul has staked out the non-interventionist opposition lead role and probably will be joined by Senator Ted Cruz. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, if he weighs in, will support action; as probably would Florida's Marco Rubio, who despite reservations expressed yesterday, is counting on sizable Jewish contributions if he runs.
Hillary Clinton was a hawk on Syria before she left the State Department; it won't hurt her in 2016, particularly if almost all Senate Democrats support a strike. There probably will be one Democratic longshot -- think Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley -- who will stake out an opposing view figuring that if things turns out badly he will seem prophetic (as then State Senator Barack Obama did when he opposed the Iraq War in 2002.
No one is likely to rival Bill Clinton's formulation when asked in 1992 about the Senate resolution the previous year authorizing the first Gulf War. "I would have voted with the majority," the then-Arkansas governor told the Associated Press, "but I agreed with the arguments the minority made."
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