President Obama’s Syria problem — through the lens of Michael Grimm

September 6, 2013

Things are looking increasingly Grimm for the White House when it come to Syria.

No, that's not a typo (a bad play on words, yes, but not a typo). It's a way of saying that Rep. Michael Grimm's (R-N.Y.) decision Thursday to withdraw his support for a military strike in Syria is a near-perfect microcosm of the direction in which this debate is currently headed.


Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.). (Tom Williams – ROLL CALL/GETTY IMAGES)

After President Obama asked Congress to authorize military action, the combat veteran Grimm quickly jumped on-board: "I am supporting the president on this. ... We have to keep our word; this is about our credibility. We can't permit a precedent where there is a use of chemical weapons and there is no response."

Five days later, things changed.

"Unfortunately, the time to act was then and the moment to show our strength has passed," Grimm said, adding: "Additionally I have heard from many constituents who strongly oppose unilateral action at a time when we have so many needs here at home."

Grimm isn't the only one getting an earful from his district. To wit:

 

 

 

 

All of these members oppose the use of military force right now, but they aren't the only ones who have noted the imbalance.

"My phones are bouncing off the hook, and almost unanimously people are saying do not get involved in a bloody and chaotic civil war in Syria," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is skeptical of military action in Syria, told a local TV station.

"I don’t know a member of Congress whose e-mails and phone calls are in favor of this," Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a supporter of military action, told the Post's Ezra Klein.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who supports military action, told The Post the reaction in his district has been "overwhelmingly negative" toward the idea.

All of this evidence, of course, is anecdotal, but the preponderance makes it pretty clear that opponents of military action have been much, much more active in contacting their members of Congress than supporters. One GOP aide said his member hadn't received so much feedback from the opposition since the Obamacare debate.

Here's why that matters:

Perhaps just as important as all the phone calls from the opposition, these anecdotes all suggest that there is very little in the way of a counterbalance -- i.e. people vocally urging their members to vote 'yes.'

The takeaway message for all these members of Congress, then, is that voting "yes" will win you very few political friends, but voting "no" will alienate a whole bunch of people who are passionate, able and willing to make your phone ring off the hook. For your average risk-averse politician, that matters.

The polls make clear that taking action in Syria is not popular among really any segment of the population, but even the margins in those polls under-sell the vehemence of the opposition. And in politics, enthusiasm can mean just as much as (or more than) general sentiment.

As of now, there are very few in the House who are committed to supporting military action (24 out of 435 members). And given nearly half of the House is either against military action or skeptical, the White House needs to bring basically all of the purely undecided members on-board.

Almost all of these members will be treated in the days ahead to a chorus of constituents who oppose military action. And that matters a whole lot.

Fixbits:

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) are circulating an alternative Syria resolution.

The Obama administration is planning a $12 million ad campaign to promote Obamacare.

Jesse Benton, the campaign manager for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and a former Ron Paul aide, sharply criticized the Senate Conservatives Fund for targeting McConnell with an ad. "There are few organizations in American politics more responsible for the Democratic Majority in the U.S. Senate, and thus the continued existence of Obamacare, than the Senate Conservatives Fund," said Benton.

The White House launched a Web site to make its case for military action in Syria. And Obama canceled a Monday trip to California to stay in Washington to try to build support for an attack.

A Monmouth University poll shows that many Americans don't know that party control of the House and Senate is divided.

Mike Huckabee is not ruling out a run for president in 2016.

Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land (R) used the debate over Syria to raise money.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) is just the fourth governor of the state since 1790 to decline to run for a second term.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) wrote on Facebook that she got locked out of the Governor's mansion in her robe while sending her children off to school.

Must-reads:

"Obama making little headway with getting Congress to support attack on Syria" -- Karen Tumulty and Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

"The Fun-House Mirror That Is the Syria Decision" -- Beth Reinhard, National Journal

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Sean Sullivan · September 5, 2013