But the president faces hardening barriers in Congress, where both Republican critics and Democratic allies have voiced deep reservations or flat opposition to his proposal to intervene militarily in a predominantly Muslim nation after a decade of war overseas. Polls show that much of the American public is skeptical, too.
Obama carved out time from his trip abroad this week to call key U.S. lawmakers, including five calls to Democratic and Republican senators on Wednesday.
The urgency partly reflects the surprising way that Obama culminated days of deliberation over how to respond to President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, which Obama called “an assault on human dignity” that cannot go unpunished. He announced Saturday that he would seek congressional approval for any military strike against the Syrian government, and he has struggled to rally support across party lines amid his previously scheduled trip to Sweden and Russia.
The White House lobbying effort has included direct conversations between Obama or top administration officials and at least 60 senators and at least 125 House members as of Thursday, according to a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration operations.
Late Thursday afternoon, Vice President Biden and Antony Blinken, the deputy national security adviser, briefed a bipartisan group of House and Senate members in the White House Situation Room, an administration official said.
The outcome of a congressional vote, especially in the Republicanled House, is unclear, and the issue has blurred traditional party lines.
White House officials said they are not concerned about the vote trend in Congress so far. They said Obama, who is to return to Washington late Friday, will begin a more public campaign, including perhaps a presidential address, to win support from Congress and the American public for a strike.
The full Senate plans to begin considering as early as Friday a resolution authorizing the use of force after a divided Foreign Relations Committee this week backed limited military action. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is “guardedly optimistic” that the resolution can pass, according to Senate aides.
But Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), a moderate Democrat who has been a bipartisan consensus-builder, said Thursday that a military strike “would be the wrong course of action” before all diplomatic options are exhausted.
Here in St. Petersburg, Obama’s quandary over Syria — and his estrangement from the summit’s host and Syria’s key patron, Russian President Vladimir Putin — largely overshadowed the economic agenda of the Group of 20 meeting.