Will House liberals stand with Obama on Syria?
The president’s push for a military strike in Syria has divided Democrats in the House of Representatives, who are traditionally some of Obama’s biggest backers in Congress but are very wary of repeating the kind of extended, expensive U.S. involvement abroad that has defined the last decade.
Only a handful of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, traditionally a strong supporter of Obama’s initiatives, are so far publicly backing the Syria intervention. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), a longtime Obama supporter and one of the few non-black members of Congress from the South to back “Obamacare,” has expressed deep skepticism about striking Syria. A group of more than 50 Democrats, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), signed a letter last week urging Obama to seek congressional approval before taking military action, illustrating their wariness about the president’s policy.
““There’s no evidence that what’s happening …. is a threat to our national security,” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said over the weekend, describing why he would vote against the resolution to attack Syria.
And Obama needs these Democratic House members. Many of the House’s 233 Republicans are either skeptical of U.S. intervention abroad or simply opposed to anything President Obama proposes. As a result, a resolution on Syria will need a sizable number of votes from the chamber’s 200 Democrats to be approved.
Obama rose to prominence and earned the support of many of these Democrats in 2008 in part because of his opposition to the Iraq War.
But on national security issues, there are signs the president and liberal Democrats are no longer aligned. The president annoyed members of Congress by intervening in Libya two years without their authorization. And in a vote earlier this year, 111 Democrats voted to defund the National Security Agency’s “metadata” program, which was exposed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
White House officials are now aggressively courting congressional Democrats. As Politico reported, Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, will brief members of the Congressional Black Caucus next week. If a vote is close, the president is likely to personally call longtime allies like Lewis. And some generally anti-war members of Congress are already shifting to back the president’s position.
“If the facts warrant it, if the facts show that it was a gas attack authorized by the Assad regime, and if it’s true that there were 1,500 people killed, I just don’t think the world can stand by and say that’s OK, that’s not our business, we don’t have to worry about it,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.),