September 6, 2013

Survey: House shows opposition to Syria attack

Still, the situation is very fluid. Nearly half of the 433-member House and a third of the 100-member Senate remain undecided.

The Associated Press

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For Obama to succeed, he'll have to win about 90 percent of the undecided House members — or change the minds of those who are leaning against him.

Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., has already changed his mind, but not in Obama's favor.

"My initial reaction, as a Marine combat veteran, was to stand by the commander in chief and support immediate, targeted strikes," Grimm said. But since then, he said, he has heard from many constituents "who strongly oppose unilateral action at a time when we have so many needs here at home." He now believes the benefits of a U.S. strike won't outweigh "the extreme cost of war."

After a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, polls have shown Americans consistently oppose intervention in Syria, a fact Obama acknowledged after meeting fellow leaders of the leading rich and developing nations Friday. He compared the current situation to previous crises when America had to engage for the good of the world.

"These kinds of interventions, these kinds of actions are always unpopular because they seem distant and removed," Obama said. "I'm not drawing an analogy to World War II, other than to say, you know, when London was getting bombed, it was profoundly unpopular, both in Congress and around the country, to help the British."

"The intervention in Kosovo, very unpopular, but ultimately I think it was the right thing to do and the international community should be glad that it came together to do it," he added. "When people say that it is a terrible stain on all of us that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in Rwanda, well, imagine if Rwanda was going on right now and we asked should we intervene in Rwanda. I think it's fair to say that it probably wouldn't poll real well."

Obama has support among House leaders of both parties.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi of California and Steny Hoyer of Maryland are on board. But many rank-and-file members of both parties either oppose attacking Syria or are sitting on the sidelines until they learn more about the administration's plans and see which way the political momentum turns.

There is still plenty of time for the administration to convince House members who are undecided or who've publicly expressed skepticism about military engagement. Reluctant lawmakers are often swayed during closed-door meetings with colleagues and party leaders. Just a third of the House and Senate have participated in any of the classified briefings with administration officials over the past week, underscoring that their votes may still be winnable.

All House members are invited to a classified briefing on Monday night, after Congress officially returns from summer break. House Democrats will meet Tuesday morning with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and House Republicans will meet separately at the same time. In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats will hold their weekly policy luncheons on Tuesday, a day before a likely vote to move forward on a resolution authorizing force.

With Republicans, the administration has a more difficult challenge.

Boehner and Cantor have provided little indication they're willing to lobby for Obama's cause, even if they support it. It's also unclear how much they can deliver given that tea party and other conservative Republicans have repeatedly gone against Boehner.

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