“It was ‘Lawrence O’Donnell,’ ” Connolly corrects Henry, and adds with a laugh, “I was the pretty one.” But the truth is that Connolly is in the middle of a very ugly argument about a potential U.S. military strike against Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians by government forces. In recent days, he has become one of the most vocal proponents of congressional authorization for President Obama’s plan for limited military strikes on Syria.
And like it or not, he has become one of the public faces of the effort to sell Obama’s gambit to an immensely skeptical public weary of war. It’s a risky proposition, considering . . .
Considering that a woman is in the foyer of the Westminster administrative building, accosting Connolly to ask why he’s supporting direct U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war. She is adamant that the administration should stay out — chemical weapons be damned. That confrontation pretty much encapsulates the public reaction to Connolly’s position.
“It’s been overwhelmingly negative,” Connolly sighs after the encounter. He was referring to the reaction in his district — a wide swath of center-left-leaning Northern Virginia that happens to include a high proportion of military veterans and defense contractors.
Connolly and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have written a more narrow force resolution than the White House version in a bid to win support from lawmakers still skeptical about the proposed strikes. Of the few hundred people who have contacted his office about Syria, the vast majority have said, “Don’t do this.”
“It’s unpopular,” Connolly concedes in an interview. “I certainly listen. I like to believe the resolution I drafted reflects some of the concerns: limited time frame, no boots on the ground.”
This public pushback is a major problem for Obama, who made the political gamble to ask Congress for a vote on his resolution, calculating that it was worth the risk to win broader public backing for a military mission with no clear objectives. The president is counting on Democrats such as Connolly to complete the sale — not just to their constituents but to one another and the public.
Although House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have said they will support Obama, most Republicans appear disinclined to follow their lead, leaving it up to the Democratic caucus to find as many votes as possible.
It’s not easy.
Take, for example, Connolly’s Facebook page, where opponents to U.S. involvement in Syria are making their feelings known.
“The American people DO NOT WANT to get involved in Syria,” one person wrote. “Are you listening? We will not forget who votes for this garbage.”