September 9, 2013

With President Obama set to address the nation from the Oval Office tomorrow night, this week may determine whether he can win Congressional support for military action in Syria — and here’s a new development that could complicate his quest.

As early as tomorrow, I’m told, House liberals will introduce their own resolution on Syria that would call on the United States to exhaust all diplomatic efforts to reach a negotiated political solution to the Syrian conflict, and all means for using international law to hold Assad accountable, rather than opting for military intervention.

The White House has repeatedly argued it has already exhausted all diplomatic options. House liberals disagree, and intend to try to put it to a vote.

A draft of the measure, which will be introduced by Dem Rep. Barbara Lee, a staunch opponent of intervention, is currently being circulated among House Dems, aides tell me. It urges the U.S. to require Syria to grant unfettered access to humanitarian organizations to help civilians; step up diplomacy via the international community to advance a negotiated settlement; strengthen sanctions targeting Assad’s assets; prosecute the use of chemical weapons via the International Criminal Court; establish an international Syrian war crimes tribunal; and develop any further responses with member states of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

It’s anyone’s guess whether this resolution will even get a vote, given that House GOP and Dem leaders favor strikes. Putting that aside — and putting aside whether you think such ideas have any chance of having an impact — this new push could help shape the debate, and bears watching.

If it picks up scores and scores of House co-sponsors from both parties, it will underscore the depth of Congressional opposition to military intervention. Indeed, as National Review reports, Rep. Devin Nunes, who opposes strikes, is pushing the idea of a diplomatic response on the Republican side. As one House GOP told NR: “If Obama’s resolution is defeated, you may see members from both parties rally behind this kind of legislation.”

In other words, this sort of resolution could provide House Dems and Republicans a way to support some kind of response without backing strikes. Members of both parties widely accept Assad’s guilt and seem to agree doing nothing in response is not an option, even as they are skeptical of military intervention. A push like this could give them an out — making it easier to vote No on Obama’s request for authorization. Indeed, it’s not inconceivable you could see a surprising coalescing of left-right support behind this push similar to the one that came together behind the amendment that would have ended NSA bulk surveillance, shocking Congressional leaders.

We’re already seeing signs that this coalition is reconstituting itself against strikes. The question is whether a resolution such as this could provide a rallying and organizing point for this coalition.

On the other hand, you could also see some Members supporting such a push for another reason. If they demand a vote on a diplomatic response first — and they don’t get one, or they do and it fails — it could make it easier for some of them to vote Yes on strikes later while arguing that they tried unsuccessfully to back an alternative, and that doing nothing is unacceptable. So keep an eye on where this goes.

* POLL SHOWS OBAMA FACES HUGE CHALLENGE ON SYRIA: A new CNN poll finds a strong majority of Americans opposed to strikes, with more than seven in 10 saying it won’t accomplish anything for the U.S. and similar numbers saying we shouldn’t get involved in Syria’s civil war. The key is that the public has concluded this in spite of the fact that eight in 10 believe Assad gassed his own people.

What this underscores, again, is that the case against Assad has already been made successfully, and that it isn’t enough. The White House has yet to persuade Americans to accept the underlying rationale behind strikes — that they would deter further attacks, or that the potential upsides of intervening, whatever they are, outweigh the potential risks.

 * HOUSE REPUBLICANS TILT STRONGLY AGAINST SYRIA STRIKES: House GOP leadership sources tell Robert Costa they expect only around 30 to 40 Republicans to ultimately vote to authorize strikes. I think that will prove somewhat higher, but even so, that means the White House must win over a huge amount of House Dems to have a chance of passing the resolution.

There are legitimate reasons for Republicans to oppose intervention, but given these numbers — and given that some GOP officials themselves previously called for military intervention — it’s obvious that a good deal of this is all about Obama.

* WHAT WILL BOEHNER AND CANTOR DO? Also in Robert Costa’s story: Note that Eric Cantor is reportedly taking on a more hands on role behind the scenes than is Boehner. This is what the House Speaker is up to:

He hasn’t wooed rank-and-file members or published any op-eds, and he has declined every Sunday-show invitation. Boehner’s aides say the speaker believes that the pressure is on the president and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi to deliver votes, and he’s focused almost entirely on keeping his fragile conference together ahead of the fall’s fiscal dramas.

While aides say this could change, it’s an interesting posture given that Boehner is supposed to be a Republican “hawk.”

* ASSAD THREATENS RETALIATION: In a new interview with Charlie Rose, Assad warns that the United States “should expect everything” in the way of a response to military attacks, and not necessarily just from Syria. There’s some chatter to the effect that this could help the White House case. But again, Congress seems persuaded of Assad’s guilt already, so it’s unclear what he  might say that would change things.

 * OBAMA SETTING NEW PRECEDENT BY GOING TO CONGRESS: Charlie Savage has an interesting look at the precedent that the President is setting by asking Congress to authorize limited strikes on Syria; whatever the outcome, it could have the effect of making it politically tougher for future presidents to wage war without Congressional assent.

I continue to think the politics of this situation are not what they seem: If Congress says No, and Obama calls off the attack, far from being seen as presidential “weakness” and “defeat,” it could very well win widespread support and, ultimately, have a positive effect over the long term.

* HOUSE GOP OUT OF EXCUSES ON IMMIGRATION: The Post has a nice editorial ripping into GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte for his delaying tactics on immigration. As the editorial notes, the real problem here is a “Republican caucus in the House that prefers to allow the immigration problem to fester than embrace any solution that includes a path to citizenship.”

Again: If immigration reform dies, it’s only because the House GOP leadership decided to kill it. That’s just all there is to it.

* DE BLASIO HEADS TOWARDS VICTORY IN NEW YORK: The robo-firm Public Policy Polling puts Bill de Blasio on the cusp of winning the New York Democratic mayoral primary tomorrow: He comfortably leads his nearest challenger Bill Thompson, by 38-19. Thompson’s also way ahead in a potential runoff with Thompson (53-33) and Christine Quinn (67-21). This tracks with other recent polling.

If de Blasio does win, it could potentially help reassert the importance of progressive economics within the Democratic Party, and his mayoralty will be closely followed by liberal voters, activists and politicians across the country.

* DE BLASIO COULD WIN WITHOUT RUNOFF: Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac poll finds de Blasio leading comfortably, and adds that an unusually large bloc of undecided voters — eight percent — could put him over the 40 percent no-runoff mark.

* AND A NICE TAKEDOWN OF THE “POST POLICY” GOP: Paul Krugman gets to the heart of it: The GOP’s widespread inability to even process the emerging good news about Obamacare’s implementation is of a piece with the party’s near-total abdication on policy in general.

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.