September 5, 2013

Politico reports that Nancy Pelosi’s leading “liberal enforcers” are not yet on board with strikes on Syria, which creates serious problems in her quest to round up support in the House for authorization:

Liberal enforcers like Reps. Rosa DeLauro, George Miller, Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo aren’t on board, at least not yet. And it won’t be easy to convince them, since all four are doves who voted against the Iraq War authorization in 2002. [...]

DeLauro said she has particular concern about how the resolution is worded. “I will not vote for any open-ended authorization to use force or any other authorization that allows for deployment of troops on the ground,” DeLauro said. “I’m also very mindful of the fact that the use of military force can have, will have ramifications, including unpredictable ones.” [...]

Earlier this week, Eshoo and Lofgren sent Ambassador Susan Rice a letter asking a series of questions about the military action and its impact.

Miller’s press secretary Peter Whippy said the California Democrat also is undecided on whether he will support military action.

“In his opinion, the President’s drafted resolution is too broad and open-ended to be considered an acceptable starting point and he cannot support it as is,” Whippy wrote in an email. “Only once it’s appropriately amended does he feel that we can start having a debate about military action in Syria.”

If Pelosi loses these liberals, then it signals real trouble for the White House. But listen carefully to what they’re really saying: It tells us a lot about where this debate is headed.

At least two are centering their concerns primarily on the broadness of the resolution authorizing force, as opposed to the underlying premise of Obama’s argument for intervention. Two others are awaiting more information from senior Obama officials before making up their mind.

I’m going to repeat myself here, but this is important. There are two categories of opposition to Syria strikes among Dems. The first is focused primarily on a desire to see the resolution put strict enough limits on Obama’s authority, as opposed to being against the idea of the strikes themselves. This includes Dems like Chris Van Hollen, and perhaps DeLauro and Miller above. The White House probably can win these folks.

The second category includes those who are not persuaded by the underlying rationale Obama has offered for strikes, as opposed to merely being concerned about the scope of authorization. This includes liberal Dems like Rick Nolan and Alan Grayson, and probably most of those who are already firm No votes. Those in this camp who have not spoken out may also not be persuadable. And this could be a sizable bloc, too. As Markos Moulitsas notes, “the class of 2006 and 2008 were elected in large part based on opposition to war.” We just don’t know yet how big this group is.

It’s possible that those in the first, more gettable category oppose Obama’s proposed intervention itself but won’t say so for fear of angering the White House. But until they do say so, they should be seen as persuadable. There’s a ton of kabuki going on here — those professing concern about the resolution could very well find a way to Yes later, while arguing they reined in Obama’s warmaking authority.

Getting this through the House is going to be hard for the White House, because Obama still hasn’t addressed people’s concerns about the wisdom of the mission itself. I think it very well may fail. But folks should pay very close attention to what these Members are actually saying. Until they come out firmly against the underlying premises of Obama’s argument, they aren’t really in the No camp and may not even be really leaning No.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.