WASHINGTON – Suggesting an uphill fight for President Obama on his plan for a U.S. military strike against Syria, House members staking out positions are either opposed to or leaning against it by more than a 6-1 margin, a survey by the Associated Press shows. The Senate is more evenly divided ahead of its vote next week.
Still, the situation is very fluid. Nearly half of the 433-member House and a third of the 100-member Senate remain undecided.
Only 30 members of the Republican-led House support intervention or are leaning in favor of authorizing the president to use force against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government in response to a chemical weapons attack last month near Damascus, while 192 House members oppose U.S. involvement or are leaning against authorization, according to the AP survey.
The situation in the Democrat-controlled Senate is better for Obama but hardly conclusive ahead of a potential vote next week. The AP survey showed senators who support or are leaning in favor of military action holding a slight 34-32 advantage over those opposed or leaning against it.
Complicating the effort in the Senate is the possibility that a three-fifths majority may be required in the event of a filibuster. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, said he is going to filibuster. Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted, “I think we’re going to get 60 votes.”
Speaking to reporters Friday after a summit of world leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia, Obama acknowledged the difficulties he faces in seeking support for action. He said he would address the nation on Tuesday.
“It’s conceivable at the end of the day I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do,” Obama said. But the president, who again would not say what he would do if Congress rebuffed him, expressed confidence that the people and their lawmakers would listen to his case.
“Failing to respond would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence,” he said.
How difficult is Obama’s challenge in Congress? Only 21 House members publicly back a resolution to attack Syria, and nine say they are considering giving their support. About 100 House members oppose Obama’s plan, and 92 say they are leaning against it.
Opposition runs deep among Republicans and Democrats. So far, GOP lawmakers stand 148-9 against military action, when accounting for leaners. Democrats are opposed by a tally of 44-21.
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.
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.”