Wonkbook: House looks ready to kill Syria strike resolution

September 5, 2013

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(Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters)
(Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters)

When President Obama decided to ask Congress for authorization to strike Syria, he put the mission at the mercy of both public opinion and congressional Republicans. Neither bet is looking particularly good right now. Public opinion remains overwhelmingly opposed -- and that's even truer in the slice of public opinion that contacts members of Congress.

"The active public is against this," Rep. Brad Sherman, who supports intervention, told me. "I don’t know a member of Congress whose e-mails and phone calls are in favor of this."

How against this? The National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru tweets that "an undeclared senator's office tells me calls have run roughly 1200-7 against intervention in Syria." Perhaps that's an outlier. But so far, there are no outliers on the pro-intervention side, at least that anyone knows about.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman report that House Republicans are not inclined to back President Obama on Syria. "Several lawmakers and aides who have been canvassing support say that nearly 80 percent of the House Republican Conference is, to some degree, opposed to launching strikes in Syria. Informal counts by Obama allies show that support in Congress for Obama’s plans is in the low dozens."

House Republican leadership, meanwhile, isn't inclined to change their members' minds. "Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman said that he 'expects the White House to provide answers to members’ questions and take the lead on any whipping effort.'"

As for conservative foreign policy elites, Liz Cheney, now running for the Senate in Wyoming, said she'd oppose the authorization, and Stephen Hayes, writing in the Wall Street Journal, is making "the hawk's" case against intervention. So the White House isn't finding much support there, either.

Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, says he expects a televised presidential address on Syria later this week. That'll have to be some speech.

Wonkbook's Numbers of the Day: 669,000 and 373,000. The first figure is the number of heroin users in 2012, according to a new federal survey. The second is the number of heroin users in 2007.

Wonkbook's Graphs of the Day: Eduardo Porter shows how companies and their executives diverge in political giving.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) forget Syria?; 2) Senate is the only obstacle to Summers; 3) taking away every lifeline for the poor; 4) the 'Secretary of Explaining Stuff'; and 5) college enrollment drops.

1) Top story: Hard to see how a Syria resolution has any chance in the House

Support for a strike on Syria in the House is disastrously low. "Several lawmakers and aides who have been canvassing support say that nearly 80 percent of the House Republican Conference is, to some degree, opposed to launching strikes in Syria. Informal counts by Obama allies show that support in Congress for Obama’s plans is in the low dozens...The biggest problem for Obama — and now Boehner — is that the opposition is coming from precisely the places where many expected the president to find support. The thought throughout top levels of the House Republican Conference is that Obama needs to garner backing from Republicans on the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees, and the Appropriations subcommittees on Defense and Foreign Operations." Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman in Politico.

Interview: Rep. Brad Sherman explains how the White House could win the Syria voteEzra Klein in The Washington Post.

U.S. spies missed signs of Aug. 21 Syrian WMD strike. "U.S. intelligence agencies did not detect the Syrian regime readying a massive chemical weapons attack in the days ahead of the strike, only piecing together what had happened after the fact, U.S. officials say...[T]he Obama administration only uncovered the evidence after Syrians started posting reports of the strike from the scene of the attack, leading U.S. spies and analysts to focus on satellite and other evidence showing a Syrian chemical weapons unit was preparing chemical munitions before the strike, according to two current U.S. officials and two former senior intelligence officials." Kimberly Dozier in The Associated Press.

@blakehounshell: If the Syria resolution looks like it's going to go down, will the White House ask leadership to pull it?

Divided Senate panel approves Syria strike resolution, 10-7. "The 10-to-7 vote showed bipartisan support for a strike, but bipartisan opposition as well. Republicans voting yes included Senators John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Democrats against the authorization included Senators Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut. The Senate’s newest member, Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, voted present...The approved resolution would limit strikes against the Syrian government to 60 days, with the possibility of 30 more days upon consultation with Congress, and it would specifically block the use of ground troops. But to retain the support of Mr. McCain, considered crucial to the authorization’s final passage, the committee toughened some of the language." Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.

Whip count: How Senate Foreign Relations Committee members voted on SyriaPolitico.

Syria war resolution will require 60 votes in Senate. "Some reports have speculated that under the War Powers Act, the Syria war resolution could be brought to the Senate floor under special circumstances with only limited debate and requiring only a simple majority to pass. But Senate leadership has decided to treat the Syria war authorization, approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 10–7 Wednesday afternoon, like any other joint resolution. This means that it will be subject to a cloture motion, which requires 60 votes to pass, except in the unlikely event that all 100 senators give unanimous consent to move directly to a final vote." Josh Rogin in The Daily Beast.

Kerry and Hagel go to the House. "Secretary of State John Kerry said the “world is watching” on Wednesday as he pressed the case for a limited attack on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, assuring skeptical members of Congress in a House hearing there would be no boots on the ground and the consequences of doing nothing would be far greater than the risks of action...Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey joined Kerry on Wednesday for a session that stretched four hours with more skeptics than the trio faced the day before in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce raised a number of questions about the potential consequences of a U.S. strike on Syria during his opening remarks." Austin Wright in Politico.

Explainer: The 10 most revealing moments in the Senate’s big Syria hearingBrad Plumer in The Washington Post.

It's not just the conservatives trying to, as Buckley said, stand athwart history and yell 'Stop.' "As Harry Reid pushes for a Syria vote next week in the Senate, he and President Barack Obama face a major challenge convincing liberal Democrats to support them...Reid can lose only a handful of his 54 Democrats to move to a final vote on passage...Reid, though, is expected to argue to his rank-and-file members that they need to support him — and Obama — in overcoming the 60-vote threshold to cut off debate, and are then free to oppose the resolution on final passage, which would only require 50 votes, with Vice President Joe Biden available to break a tie." John Bresnahan, Manu Raju and Burgess Everett in Politico.

@jbarro: There is an underpants gnome component to the argument for bombing Syria.

Who are the key players in the Syria debate? "There are nine progressive Democratic senators who voted against the Iraq War resolution in 2002: The White House is close to winning the support of all those members...Supporters in the House got a lift this week from the backing for a strike of Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers. Still, much of the Obama-hating House Republican caucus wants to vote no. Again, if an influential conservative, such as Texas's Mac Thornberry, the probable next chairman of the Armed Services Committee, offers his support, it would matter; the same is true of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce." Albert R. Hunt in Bloomberg.

Sen. Menendez expects a presidential address on Syria. "Sen. Robert Menendez said Wednesday that he believes President Barack Obama will address the American people to explain his reasoning for military action in Syria. “I believe that he will do that, probably later this week. And I think it is important for him to do so,” the New Jersey Democrat said." Tal Kopan in Politico.

@RameshPonnuru: An undeclared senator's office tells me calls have run roughly 1200-7 against intervention in Syria.

A weakened Obama heads to the G20. "Obama’s standing on the world stage has undoubtedly suffered from the recent turmoil. That has complicated his relations not only with Russia and China, but also with allies like Germany and Britain, which have refused to endorse military action against the forces of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, even if they share Mr. Obama’s concern about the use of chemical weapons." Steven Lee Myers in The New York Times.

Obama, in Stockholm, says that on Syria, ‘the international community cannot be silent.’ "“At what point do we say we need to confront actions that are violating our common humanity?” Obama said at a news conference here, standing next to Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. “I would argue that when I see 400 children subjected to gas, or 1,400 innocent civilians dying senselessly . . . the moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing.”...“I didn’t set a red line,” Obama told reporters. “The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use, even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty.”" Philip Rucker and Will Englund in The Washington Post.

Full transcript: President Obama’s press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in StockholmThe Washington Post.

When the United States looked the other way on chemical weapons. "Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile results from a never-acknowledged gentleman’s agreement in the Middle East that as long as Israel had nuclear weapons, Syria’s pursuit of chemical weapons would not attract much public acknowledgement or criticism...[T]here is an even more striking instance of the United States ignoring use of the chemical weapons that killed tens of thousands of people -- during the grinding Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s." Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post.

Rand Paul denies plans to filibuster Syria resolution. "News reports earlier Wednesday citing Paul aides said the senator was planning to filibuster the resolution. That would require the resolution’s supporters to amass at least 60 senators to vote to override a filibuster. Senate Democratic aides have said for days that they always expected the need to have at least 60 votes in support of the measure, assuming that some senator would at some point attempt to filibuster the resolution." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Syria could be a crucial proving ground for U.S. cyberwarriors. "Syria’s air defenses would likely be among the first targets of any cyberattack, the experts said. U.S. forces could trick the country’s radar system into seeing nothing as American jets passed overhead, or disrupt Syrian missile sites designed to shoot down U.S. aircraft. American engineers also could disable Syria’s power grid remotely while the intervention was ongoing, then bring the system back online. They might take down Syrian command-and-control networks, or, in a move reminiscent of more traditional electronic warfare, jam the Syrian army’s communications or block its propaganda." Brian Fung in The Washington Post.

KLEIN: Why do we even care about chemical-weapons use in Syria? "The strikes that the Barack Obama administration favors, and that Congress is now debating, have a more limited purpose: to ensure that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad uses conventional weapons to massacre his people rather than the chemical variety that recently killed 1,400 in the suburbs of Damascus. The hope is that U.S. intervention will encourage future tyrants to kill by firepower rather than by sarin...Making the decision to punish Assad means explicitly making the decision not to stop him. The brutality of what we are willing to accept tarnishes the better world we seek to preserve." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

IRWIN: Syria is the new TARP. "A second-term president decided to go to Congress to get legislative buy-in for a response to a long-building crisis. The crisis itself was a morass, with no good options. Even with the TARP, we experienced the worst financial crisis and recession in generations; even with U.S. intervention in Syria, Syria will almost certainly be an unstable mess for many years...[T]he important thing the two situations have in common is this: A distrust of elite opinion by a large swath of the American population, and the lawmakers who represent them." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

RUBIN: Syria ≠ Kosovo. "The United States should respond militarily to Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons to murder his own citizens. Yet as a matter of law and policy, the Kosovo war is no precedent for airstrikes against Syria...[T]o win the vote, the Obama administration would be wise not to emphasize the Kosovo analogy." James P. Rubin in The New York Times.

CROOK: The moral case for a Syria strike. "Choosing not to use force would weaken the norm against chemical weapons. Those milder ways of expressing disgust would still be available, so the norm wouldn’t be destroyed -- but it would be eroded. Preventing that is both morally right and valuable to the U.S. and the world. But how valuable? And at what cost?...What about U.S. credibility? Most of those urging an attack say it’s on the line. They have a point -- credibility matters, to be sure -- but they’re making too much of it." Clive Crook in Bloomberg.

HAYES: The hawk's case against Obama on Syria. "[A] successful intervention requires a commander in chief committed to changing the war's momentum and changing the regime in Damascus. The White House has eschewed both. The only thing worse than not intervening in Syria would be a failed intervention—an outcome that will make future American interventions, by this president or another, in Syria or elsewhere, even more difficult. If President Obama exercises the authority he claims and launches a serious campaign to end the slaughter in Syria and change the regime in Damascus, Republicans should support him. Until he does, they should oppose him." Stephen F. Hayes in The Wall Street Journal.

HENNINGER: Benching Uncle Sam. "The purpose of Mr. Obama's fantastic statements Wednesday could not be more obvious: He is trying to drive the Republicans into a "no" vote on the Syria resolution. He is shirking presidential responsibility for the U.S.'s role in the world. He doesn't want that responsibility...With the presidency comes the job of commander in chief. He never wanted that job. He wanted to let the U.S.'s global status decline while he dallied at home with windmills, college rankings and health data." Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal.

White House to hold further Syria briefings for Congress. "The briefings will take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center and at 2 p.m. on Friday, according to an alert sent to members’ offices. The briefers will include Tony Blinken, the deputy National Security Adviser; Robert Cardillo, the deputy director of national intelligence; Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs; James Miller, the undersecretary of defense for policy; and Vice Adm. Kurt Tidd, the director of operations for the Joint Staff." Jake Sherman in Politico.

Music recommendations interlude: The National, "Start a War."

Top opinion

YGLESIAS: Crush the Fed's independence, and pick Larry Summers. "Summers would do far less to diminish the Fed’s independence than these lurid theories suggest. But more to the point, the hope that Summers would diminish the Fed’s independence is, on the merits, far and away the best reason to be optimistic about him getting a job...A chairman who financial markets feared would try to juice the economy in the short run at the expense of higher medium-term inflation is exactly what the economy needed." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

EDSALL: How fragile is the Democratic coalition? "“The Big Sort” focuses on one of the key factors behind these geographic trends: people are increasingly choosing to move into neighborhoods and communities of like-minded people who share their political views, creating what Bishop and Cushing call “way-of-life segregation.”" Thomas B. Edsall in The New York Times.

Video interlude: A history of typography.

2) Summers's only obstacle: the Senate

U.S. economy growing at 'modest to moderate' pace, says Fed. "With most Fed officials seemingly bent on moving away from controversial asset purchases aimed at keeping long-term rates down, investors are expecting the Fed to begin reducing the pace of its $85 billion monthly bond buys at policymakers' next meeting later this month. Recent economic data has been mixed, but not weak enough to suggest any upset to a sluggish recent recovery, which is slowly bringing down unemployment." Reuters.

Why Obama might tap Summers for Fed despite harsh criticism from left. "Lawrence H. Summers has at least one key supporter who is unlikely to harbor concerns: President Obama, who in coming weeks is strongly considering nominating him to replace Ben S. Bernanke at the Fed...Obama developed great faith in the man who was his top economic adviser as he confronted historic crises at the beginning of his presidency." Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Summer will stop. It's called September. If Summers will be stopped, it will be called the Senate. "Mr. Obama, well aware of Mr. Summer’s love-him-or-hate-him reputation and the trouble he could face winning Senate confirmation, reasoned that it was hardly too soon to think about courting senators, even if a final decision on a nominee was nearly a year off. Shifting from his confidants — Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and the man who soon would succeed him, the White House chief of staff, Jacob J. Lew — the president gave Rob Nabors, then his liaison to Congress, the Summers project." Jackie Calmes in The New York Times.

Here’s what Larry Summers would do at the Fed. "I learned a bit about the approach Summers would likely take at the Fed, based on interviews with some of the people who know him best, primarily sources who have worked closely with him, along with parsing his public comments...Before the financial crisis, he wrote that that “a critical element of regulatory policy should be insisting on increased capital in existing financial institutions.” There’s every reason to believe he still believes in the primacy of demanding that financial institutions in the U.S. and abroad hold an excess of capital to buffer against shocks." Zachary Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

The Coase Theorem is widely cited in economics. Ronald Coase hated it. "The Coase Theorem says that in the absence of transaction costs — the costs of identifying potential trading partners, negotiating contracts, monitoring for compliance and so forth — it doesn’t matter how property rights are allocated...Of course, that “no transaction cost” assumption is ridiculous...Coase’s goal in describing a transaction-cost-free world was to focus attention on the importance of transaction costs to economic policy." Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.

Trade deficit widens as imports rebound, driven by rising domestic consumption. So, on balance, good news. "The Commerce Department said on Wednesday the trade gap increased 13.3 percent to $39.1 billion, partially unwinding a plunge in June that had pushed the deficit to a 3-1/2 year low. Adjusted for inflation, the shortfall grew to $47.7 billion from $43.8 billion in June. It is this so-called real deficit that goes into the calculation of gross domestic product...Analysts said, however, that trade should begin adding to U.S. GDP later in the year given signs global demand is picking up." Reuters.

How companies and their executives diverge in political giving. "Executives and their companies contribute to politics very differently. Adam Bonica, a political scientist at Stanford, collected data on the spending on last year’s elections by chief executives and directors of Fortune 500 companies. Then he compared them with the spending by Fortune 500 corporate PACs. The difference is stark." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

Adorable animals interlude: The cutest kitten GIF you've ever seen.

3) The New Colossus, aging and forgotten

Get ready for a new debate over food stamps. "Republicans, alarmed by a rise in food stamp enrollment, are pushing to revamp and scale down the program. Democrats are resisting the cuts. No matter what Congress decides, benefits will be reduced in November, when a provision in the 2009 stimulus bill expires." Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times.

‘Food insecurity’ may be high, but states are still saying no to federal food-stamp support. "Under federal law, able-bodied adults without dependents can receive a maximum of three months’ worth of food stamps in a three-year period, unless they work 20 hours a week or participate in a work-training program. But a federal waiver has allowed those individuals in most states to continue to receive benefits. Kansas announced Wednesday that it will become the latest state to decline renewing that exception when it expires at the end of the month...Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming and Utah don’t use the waiver, while Oklahoma and Wisconsin plan to let it expire, too, the AP reports." Niraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.

Born poor? You want to live where the middle class is. "Building on groundbreaking work from a team of economists led by Harvard’s Raj Chetty, researchers at the liberal Center for American Progress have found a strong correlation between the size of a region’s middle class and the economic mobility the residents of that region can expect to experience over their lifetimes...The CAP paper suggests that about half of the variations in regional mobility can be explained by middle class size." Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post.

Explainer: This chart shows why $270 billion in housing aid hasn’t solved homelessnessDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Nevada slashes unemployment benefits due to sequestration. "As of this week, unemployment insurance payments going out to more than 20,000 of Nevada’s long-term unemployed shrunk a whopping 59 percent, with the across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration to blame...According to data compiled by the National Employment Law Project, states including Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin cut their federally financed Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs soon after sequestration officially hit in March. They were able to make relatively small reductions to checks — about 11 percent — because the budget pain was spread out over a longer time frame. But many other states waited, and therefore needed to cut more. The single worst-hit state thus far has been Nevada, whose state unemployment rate is the highest in the country at 9.5 percent." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

Unlikely encounters interlude: Cookie Monster learns about delayed gratification.

4) The 'Secretary of Explaining Stuff'

Bill Clinton makes the case for Obamacare. "“It seems to me that the benefits of reform can’t be fully realized, and the problems can’t be fixed, unless both the supporters and the opponents of the legislation work together to implement it,” he said, adding even fixing the law’s problems require collaboration. “We all get paid to show up for work, and we need all hands on deck here.”...White House aides had touted the speech last week, describing Clinton as the “Secretary of Explaining Stuff,” and the former president did delve into the weeds as he described how health care reform had reduced medical errors and introduced “competitive bidding for durable medical equipment.”" Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Watch: Clinton, master orator in actionJonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

Deep-red Indiana might just expand Medicaid. "[C]oming out of those negotiations, state officials and experts think there could be space for Indiana and the federal government to carve out a full Medicaid expansion–one that stands to look significantly different than other state plans...The bigger question is whether Indiana and the federal government can come to some agreement on the state’s more consumer-driven cost-sharing. Alker says that while the federal government has generally frowned upon charing low-income Medicaid enrollees premiums, there could be a way around that." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Wonkbook is good for your vocabulary interlude: An orrery in action.

5) College enrollment falls

The Tuition Is Too Damn High, Part VIII: Is this all rich kids’ fault? "[T]oday’s system takes that pattern to extremes. In the 2007-08 school year, students from families making $100,000 or more paid an average of $30,159 a year in tuition, fees and room and board to attend private four-year colleges and universities, and they paid $16,871 a year to attend public four-years, according to the College Board. Students from families making under $32,500 a year paid $17,050 a year on average to attend private schools and $9,404 a year to attend publics." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

College enrollment falls for first time since 2006. "Overall undergraduate- and graduate-school enrollment fell by about a half million to 19.9 million in 2012, according to the Census Bureau's annual school-enrollment report released Tuesday...The overall decline in college enrollment was driven by students age 25 and older. That group fell by 419,000 students from 2011, while enrollment of younger students dropped by 48,000." Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

John McCain explains why ‘Allahu Akbar’ shouldn’t freak you outDylan Matthews.

Deep-red Indiana might just expand MedicaidSarah Kliff.

Rep. Brad Sherman explains how the White House could win the Syria voteEzra Klein.

Here’s what Larry Summers would do at the FedZachary Goldfarb.

The Coase Theorem is widely cited in economics. Ronald Coase hated itTimothy B. Lee.

Syria is the new TARP. Neil Irwin.

The 10 most revealing moments in the Senate’s big Syria hearingBrad Plumer.

The Tuition Is Too Damn High, Part VIII: Is this all rich kids’ faultDylan Matthews.

Why Nokia lost, and Samsung wonLydia DePillis.

This chart shows why $270 billion in housing aid hasn’t solved homelessnessDylan Matthews.

Born poor? You want to live where the middle class isJim Tankersley.

Et Cetera

Obama administration extends veterans’ benefits to same-sex married couplesJosh Hicks in The Washington Post.

EPA, Energy Dept. chiefs to appear at House climate hearingBen German in The Hill.

Federal survey shows heroin use up significantlyElise Viebeck in The Hill.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Dylan Matthews · September 4, 2013