September 5, 2013

If you look at the various whip counts floating around on where the House is on the Syria resolution, it certainly looks like it could very well go down. They mostly show there are far more Members against strikes or leaning against them than have declared support for them.

But it may be premature to count out the possibility that it could still pass, for a number of key reasons.

This post will focus mostly on the state of play among House Democrats, since it’s very hard to say right now what’s going on with Republicans, because we can’t be sure how many will ultimately vote No solely to stick it to the President.

After talking to House Dem aides, here is their view of the factors that really matter right now:

1) The majority of Members still have not gotten a classified briefing, sources tell me. Aides say this will change next week, on Monday, when Members are set to be briefed en masse by White House officials. Aides believe Members won’t really make up their minds until they see the classified info, which will make a No vote harder. I’m not defending this position; I’m merely reporting how things are viewed from the inside.

2) Many members were not around during the Iraq War vote and have never taken a big, consequential vote on matters of war and peace. Aides believe that this fact, combined with the classified intel such members will be given (which they haven’t seen yet), and the persuasion they will be subjected to when they hear from White House and State Department officials, will conspire to make a No vote harder.

 3) The real state of play is not what it seems. Aides believe that many of those who say they are leaning No are not necessarily at that point. Aides believe there’s a lot of pressure on Dems — given the unpopularity of strikes with constituents, as reflected in the polls, and given some of the pressure being directed to offices by liberal groups — to downplay the possibility of a Yes vote later. So aides think the whip counts don’t tell the real story.

4) There are sizable blocs of Dems who can still get to yes. Dem aides believe they probably need around 120-130 Dems for the resolution to pass, because they think they’ll get around 90-100 Republicans (with most voting No). They think that they can get there. This would draw on Yes votes from 40 or so hawkish, interventionist Dems types who will be persuadable by groups like AIPAC; plus a sizable bloc of moderate Dems who aren’t too worried about the Dem base and will be genuinely gettable; plus some more votes drawn from around several dozen hard-to-classify Dems who are more focused on domestic affairs. Dem aides think they can get the numbers they need even if around 60 progressive Dems prove ungettable.

David Drucker reports that the House GOP leadership wants the Senate to vote on its resolution first. Some House Dem aides are fine with this; they believe it could give skeptical Dems more time to get to Yes and — when faced with the prospect of killing the resolution — could make a No vote harder.

To be clear, there’s no question the White House still faces a very tough road ahead. As I noted here earlier, it’s not clear the White House will be able to successfully address the concerns of those who simply don’t accept the underlying premise of Obama’s argument. The resolution absolutely could still go down. But the view from some on the inside is that it still has a decent chance.

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UPDATE: To clarify, this is based on aides who want to find a way to get to Yes, so factor that into your evaluation of the above. The goal was to portray how this is viewed by them.

One other point: Many Dems have not even seen the language of the resolution they’re voting on, aides point out.

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