Time isn’t on the White House’s side on Syria resolution

September 9, 2013

Here's what White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough had to say about The Fix's whip count showing a majority of the House either against or leaning against voting for a use of force resolution on Syria: "We have been working this now for several days while members are in their states and in their districts, so I think it’s too early to come to any conclusions."

Is he right?


A clock with no hands.

In the broadest sense of congressional jockeying, yes. The bulk of the 535 Members of Congress return to Washington this week, giving the White House the chance to not only brief them on classified materials relating to the chemical weapons attack in Syria, but also to bend ears in person.

And, a look at the Fix's whip count shows that fully half of the Senate remains undecided while there are 297 votes in the House that are either "leaning against" the resolution (116) or totally undecided (181) on it. That suggests some level of wiggle room for the White House -- meaning McDonough isn't wrong.

But, the dynamics of Congress -- and human nature -- suggest that time and/or face time with members is not necessarily a good thing for the White House.

Big votes are driven by momentum. And momentum is all on the side of opponents of the resolution. Since last Monday -- when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) AND Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) came out in favor of the use of military force in Syria -- there have been 111 House members who have gone on the record against it and only 25 who are for it.

And, aside from raw numbers, there have been symbolic defeats for the White House on Syria, too -- most notably Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) coming out in opposition to the resolution.

Looking back, it's hard to imagine a week starting better and ending worse than last week for the White House. The activity -- Obama dining with Republican senators on Sunday, sitting down with six networks Monday, heading to Capitol Hill and then giving a prime-time address Tuesday -- over the last/next 48 hours is designed to rebuild that momentum.

But, there is a real question as to whether that momentum can be re-created -- especially because public opinion continues to suggest that a majority of Americans simply do not want any U.S. military intervention in Syria. And, with all the members back in town, there will be safety in numbers. As in, wavering members will be able to easily swap stories about their constituents being opposed to any action -- and rest assured that voting "no" isn't the end of the world for them politically (and that voting "yes" might have more dire political consequences.)

So, yes, McDonough is right that there aren't even close to enough hard "no's" to doom the Syria resolution. But, time alone won't heal what ails the White House's push for passage, either.

Fixbits: 

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to deliver remarks about the situation in Syria during a Monday White House visit.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) criticized the Supreme Court as being too far to the right.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) said in an interview with New York Magazine that Democratic mayoral front-runner Bill de Blasio has been running a "racist" campaign. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) didn't like what Bloomberg said.

A new poll shows de Blasio at 36 percent in the Democratic primary. He will need to eclipse 40 percent on Tuesday to avoid a Democratic runoff.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told a New Hampshire radio station he was in the state because "right now I'm running for president."

Republican businessman and former Senate candidate Pete Ricketts is running for governor of Nebraska. Ricketts's last campaign was the most expensive Senate race in state history.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous is stepping down at the end of the year.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia hates the Redskins.

Must-reads:

"Obama launches final push to win congressional support for a strike on Syria" -- Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

"Obama may want Americans to support strikes on Syria, but can he do anything about it?" -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

"Mayor’s Race Offers Varied Twists in Last Push" -- David W. Chen, New York Times

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