September 6, 2013

How real are the prospects for a genuine alliance against action in Syria between progressive anti-war Democrats and isolationist Tea Party libertarians?

Dem Rep. Alan Grayson, a leader of the anti-war wing of the House Democratic caucus, tells TPM’s Dylan Scott he is organizing across the aisle to create such an alliance by gearing up an “ad hoc whip organization.” This sort of right-left alliance is often discussed but rarely materializes. But this time there could be something to it.

Here’s a way to look at it. I compared the current whip count of Members of Congress who are firm or leaning No votes on Syria right now, with the Members who voted Yes on the recent amendment to end bulk NSA surveillance that corralled a surprising amount of bipartisan support. The vote on that amendment — which was sponsored by GOP Rep. Justin Amash and Dem Rep. John Conyers — was perhaps the clearest demonstration of such a developing alliance we’ve seen.

The overlap is striking. I count nearly four dozen Representatives — from both parties — that are on both lists. In other words, even though it’s early in the whipping process on Syria, we’re already seeing substantial numbers of Members who voted to end NSA surveillance now coming out or leaning against action in Syria.

Most of these lawmakers fall into two camps. On the Republican side, they are Tea Partyers of the non-hackish variety — Tea Partyers who buck the neocon line on intervention abroad and whose support for limited government translates into real concern for civil liberties, at least in some areas. These are Republicans you might find in the Liberty Caucus. On the Democratic side, you have lawmakers who are more anti-war than liberal internationalist, and care about privacy issues — not because of an embrace of limited government, but because they embrace civil liberties from the left. They are willing to ally with these Republicans because their anti-war views mesh to some degree with the former group’s anti-interventionist streak; and because there is some civil libertarian overlap.

In both cases — on Syria, and on the amendment to end NSA surveillance — this loose alliance of lawmakers is allied against the leadership of their own parties. And in both cases, they represent a genuine threat to the outcome. In the case of the Amash amendment, it fell just short of victory. On Syria, it’s early days yet, and as I’ve said here before, you should treat the whip counts with some skepticism. But it’s very possible that the Syria resolution could go down, and if it does, this alliance is very likely to have played a major role.

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