September 6, 2013

For the reasons I mentioned yesterday, I continue to think it’s premature to predict certain defeat in the House for the use-of-force resolution against Syria. ABC News’s Rick Klein seems to agree, noting that a very hard sell from the White House — which you can expect will be directed at Congress — could ultimately prevail, even though right now the votes just aren’t there.

But it’s not too early to make the case that if Congress does sink the resolution, Obama should heed it. And he probably will.

Peter Baker has a must-read getting inside the thinking of the White House, which is looking at the coming Syria vote as a test of whether Congress will support any proposed use of force during the rest of his presidency. Paradoxically, this gives Obama a good reason not to act on Syria if Congress says No:

Although Mr. Obama has asserted that he has the authority to order the strike on Syria even if Congress says no, White House aides consider that almost unthinkable. As a practical matter, it would leave him more isolated than ever and seemingly in defiance of the public’s will at home. As a political matter, it would almost surely set off an effort in the House to impeach him, which even if it went nowhere could be distracting and draining.

As a result, Mr. Obama would be even more reluctant to order action in the one case that has most preoccupied military planners: the development of a nuclear bomb by Iran.

Beyond what this would mean for any confrontation with Iran, it is heartening to learn that the White House sees acting on Syria without Congressional approval as “unthinkable.” On NPR this morning, White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken seemed to confirm this, saying:

“The president of course has the authority to act, but it’s neither his desire, nor his intention, to use that authority absent Congress backing him.”

Good. He shouldn’t.

Given widespread public opposition to intervening in Syria, doing so without Congress would indeed be unthinkable. In his remarks announcing his intention to seek Congressional authorization, Obama explicitly said “the country will be stronger” and “more effective” if this choice is put to Congress. He also explained the decision by adding: “I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It’s hard to see how Obama could not heed Congress after laying down those markers.

If Congress does say No, and if Obama listens — I see no reason to expect he won’t — it will set in motion a very interesting experiment. The roar of Obama-is-weak punditry — casting Obama as a lame duck who can’t get Congress to do anything, with grave consequences for the rest of his agenda –  will be deafening, with few willing to point out that heeding Congress’ word is the right thing to do for the country. (Many are currently discussing the decision to go to Congress only in terms of motive and “optics” while refusing to comment on the substance of the decision itself.)

But heeding Congress would amount to an important statement on behalf of the rule of law — it would be the truly “strong” thing to do — and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the public sees it as such, rather than buying into the Beltway “Obama is weak” framing that will undoubtedly be ubiquitous. If Baker’s reporting — and Blinken’s perhaps unwitting admission — are right, we very well may get to see how this plays out.

* DEMS TO OPPOSE SUMMERS FOR FED CHAIR: The Wall Street Journal scoops that three key Dems on the Senate Banking Committee will vote No if Obama nominates Larry Summers for Fed chair: Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, and Jeff Merkley. A source familiar with Brown’s thinking confirms to me he’s a No.

Since Dems only hold a two-vote majority on the committee, that would mean Obama would need GOP support to get him to the full Senate, which, given recent history, seems unlikely — even though Fed chair picks are traditionally given wide bipartisan support. I’ve long thought a Summers pick all but guarantees Obama a big public fight with Senate Dems representing the liberal wing of the party. It’s now clear he’d get one.

* A LACKLUSTER JOBS REPORT: The numbers for August are in: The economy added 169,000 jobs, and unemployment is little changed at 7.3 percent. Meanwhile, the July and June numbers were revised downward by a total of 74,000 jobs. Bad. And remember, August’s numbers are subject to revision, too. More austerity right away!

* CONSTITUENTS GIVING CONGRESS EARFUL ABOUT SYRIA: The Post details that multiple members of Congress say they are getting strong pushback from constituents who want them to oppose any strike on Syria. The key point here is that this gives Members a strong incentive to say they are currently leaning against supporting a use-of-force resolution.

What still remains to be seen is whether the White House can persuade them — perhaps with more classified briefings — that the underlying rationale for strikes is so compelling that they should buck their own constituents. It’s going to be an uphill climb, to be sure.

* “PRO-ISRAEL” GROUPS GEAR UP FOR MAJOR PUSH: Even as constituents are giving Members of Congress an earful, Politico reports:

Officials say that some 250 Jewish leaders and AIPAC activists will storm the halls on Capitol Hill beginning next week to persuade lawmakers that Congress must adopt the resolution or risk emboldening Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. They are expected to lobby virtually every member of Congress, arguing that “barbarism” by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated, and that failing to act would “send a message” to Tehran that the U.S. won’t stand up to hostile countries’ efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, according to a source with the group.

As I reported here yesterday, House Dem aides believe there are blocs of Dems who can be persuaded to get to Yes under pressure; it’ll be interesting to see how many are susceptible to an AIPAC push.

* McCAIN HECKLED OVER SYRIA AT TOWN HALL: CNN reports that John McCain is getting an earful over Syria, too. For those who closely followed the run-up to the Iraq War, the outpouring of opposition to intervention in Syria is really something to behold, isn’t it?

* THE REAL DEAL ON OBAMA’S “RED LINE”: Glenn Kessler has the most comprehensive look yet at the White House’s handling of Obama’s “red line” phrase. Kessler notes that Obama’s use of the formulation, and the subsequent discomfort with it, were ill considered, but that on balance, the White House handling of it doesn’t rise to the level of dishonesty. Kessler’s assessment is very fair, which is why conservatives are already attacking it

* GOP TAKING HUGE RISK ON IMMIGRATION: Don’t miss Ronald Brownstein’s deep dive into why the GOP is taking a tremendous risk in banking on a more-white-voters strategy in the 2016 presidential election. This, from GOP pollster White Ayres, is key:

The whites-first argument, Ayres adds, “is not getting much penetration among people who are serious about winning presidential elections. It is getting traction among people who are trying to justify voting against immigration reform or making any of the other changes that are necessary to be nationally competitive in the 21st century.”

This is the rub: Republicans aren’t willing to make any changes to keep pace with the changing face of the country, if those changes risk offending the base.

* AND YOUR DAILY DOSE OF OBAMACARE DERANGEMENT: This is just so sad:

Fight to defund Obamacare losing momentum to Syria debate

Conservative Republicans and outside advocacy groups spent the summer pushing Congress to defund President Obama’s health care law and hoped to carry that momentum into September, when Congress could vote on it. But they now face an unexpected obstacle: The all-consuming debate over military intervention in Syria.

Yes, the Congressional debate over a matter with real and far reaching consequences is distracting the nation from the debate over something that only exists in Tea Party fantasy-land.

What else?

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