Can Obama get Congress to back Syria strike?

Rodrigo Abd/ Associated Press (Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)

There’s been much talk that President Obama’s going to have a tough time getting Congress to pass a resolution authorizing air strikes on Syria in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

But that may not be the case if we look at the 2002 Iraq War vote,  where Congress gave President Bush the authority to wage full-scale war “to defend U.S. national security against Iraq,” based on thoroughly bogus claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he was involved in the 9/11 attacks because some Iraqi official may have been seen having lunch with some guy in Prague who may have been a 9/11 plotter — or maybe ran a hedge fund.

Looking at the Senate, 55 current members voted on that 2002 resolution (22 were in the House at the time). Of those 55 members, 39  — 13 Democrats and 26 Republicans —   voted for the resolution, according to data compiled by our colleague Alice Crites. So maybe Obama needs to pick up only about a dozen or so senators from the 45 who weren’t in Congress in 2002.

NOTE: This, of course, assumes a modicum of policy consistency among our senators, an obviously iffy assumption. And there’s a possibility some who voted in favor of the resolution in 2002  may have been a bit chastened by the result.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted  10 -7 with voting “present” to approve a resolution authorizing air strikes. Three Republicans joined seven Democrats in the majority.

The House may be a more dicey proposition for Obama. Only about one-third of the current House was there in 2002  to vote on the measure that led to nearly 4,500 U.S. military deaths, thousands wounded  and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths in order to rid Iran of its most bitter enemy.

Of the 144 current House members who voted on that resolution — and will vote on the Syria resolution next week —  78 voted for it (including only 20 Democrats) and 65 Democrats and one Republican voted against it.

While House Republicans in 2002 voted overwhelmingly to attack Iraq (only six opposed the resolution), the new GOP members may be much more isolationist than their counterparts 11 years ago. Add to that a strong majority of House Republicans who have never voted for anything Obama favored. (Not that politics might be a factor.)

But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have said they favor authorizing airstrikes and the measure will be brought to the House floor for a vote. If the Democrats eventually rally behind Obama, he won’t need to pick up much GOP support.

And if key House Republicans prove difficult, Vice President  Biden might want to note the spectacular move by his predecessor, Dick Cheney, before the 2002 vote. Cheney — according to our colleague Bart Gellman’s excellent book: Angler, the Cheney Vice Presidency —  gave a very reluctant then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) a private briefing in which Cheney claimed that Saddam was looking at making suitcase nukes which he could share with his terrorist pals.

Armey changed his vote.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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Al Kamen · September 4, 2013