At least a third of the nearly 200 Democrats in the House indicated Tuesday they plan to vote against approving President Obama's request for authorization to arm Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State—but enough Republican support is expected to help push the measure to passage.
With the vote set to come Wednesday, there remained ample bipartisan skepticism of the administration's strategy and recognition that broader military action will likely be necessary.
There was outright opposition from many within the president's own party during a private vote count Tuesday among the 75-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. More than 70 of the members of that group—the largest caucus among the 199 Democrats in the House—responded to an unofficial whip count indicating that they intended to oppose the president's request. If all of the 432 current House members show up to vote on the amendment, a majority of at least 217 of them would be required to pass the amendment. There are 233 Republicans.
Caucus cochair Raul Grijalva of Arizona declined to comment on the exact tally of the vote count taken Tuesday within the progressive caucus. But he confirmed that a significant majority of members of his group are not only opposed, but also angry about the position in which they see themselves as having been placed by the White House. He said he was referring to the agreement with Republicans to commingle the war amendment into must-pass legislation to keep government from shutting down on Oct. 1.
Grijalva said that maneuver means that if the amendment passes, opponents of Syria authorization will then be forced to choose whether to vote against the overall bill to keep government open—or back the bill with the president's request as part of it.
Sources said a second vote count within the progressive caucus showed a majority of its members would then turn around and support the overall measure.
"There's some resentment over this," Grijalva said.
Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, himself a member of the progressive caucus, said leadership isn't telling members how to vote. Instead, they're saying members should vote with their conscience.
And will the amendment pass? Clyburn said he thinks—and hopes—it will.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner is asking congressional Republicans to support the White House's request, but he called the plan an "interim step" and left the door open for a more comprehensive military authorization, if the president asks for one.
"This is an interim step to do what the president has asked. It does not preclude us from revisiting the issue of a broader use of military force," Boehner said Tuesday. "The president's request is to train vetted Free Syrian Army types to fight [ISIS] in Syria. And I frankly think the president's request is a sound one. I think there's a lot more that we need to be doing, but there's no reason for us not to do what the president is asking."
At a Tuesday morning closed-door meeting with the House Republican Conference, Boehner told members that the House is leading the way in crafting the language for the military authorization. The resolution, which will be voted on as an amendment to a must-pass, stopgap spending measure, includes reporting requirements mandating that the administration keep Congress abreast of efforts to arm Syrian rebel forces. Boehner painted that as a positive for his conference, noting that if the Senate were to act first, the House could be left voting on language it had no say in writing.
Leadership aides believe the measure will pass, although they do not expect either party to put up enough votes to pass it without bipartisan help. Many in the GOP conference have said they will not support the bill, primarily because they do not trust the administration and want a larger ground campaign to take on ISIS.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who has been working the phones gathering support for the authorization, said he will support it even though he knows many in the conference will not.
"A lot of our members have expressed, privately and on the floor, that we'd like to see the president lay out a broader strategy to go after [ISIS]," Scalise said.
That tone in Congress is largely animated by public opinion. Several recent polls have shown that Americans by and large support stepped-up bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria, but that they have little confidence that the Obama administration will carry out the mission. And although the authorization covers only one aspect of the plan, in the eyes of many members it has morphed into a vote of no confidence in the administration.
"I think in our hearts we all know that what the president is asking for is political cover—that's it—on something he doesn't believe, and most of us don't believe, is going to be enough," said Rep. Matt Salmon, adding that he will vote against the measure. "This is not a well thought-out plan. "¦ I'm not confident authorizing some little component without seeing the fuller picture."
Because of those reservations, House Republicans have acknowledged that a lack of wide Democratic support could sink the measure. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that he knows Republicans need their votes and, like Boehner, he said he believes a larger-scale military authorization will be necessary later.
Billy House contributed to this article
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel Newhauser is a staff correspondent for National Journal, where he primarily covers the House of Representatives. He was formerly a House leadership reporter for Roll Call, where he started as an intern in 2010 and quickly earned a slot as a beat reporter.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Newhauser traveled further West to study journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and write for newspapers including the East Valley Tribune and the Green Valley News & Sun.