White House officials said Saturday that those contacts have included meetings with Vice President Biden and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, phone calls that Obama made Friday night aboard Air Force One on his way home, and classified briefings with senior national security officials.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) will hold an early test vote Wednesday, when he will need 60 “ayes” to formally open debate, with a more critical 60-vote hurdle coming later in the week. Senate GOP leaders have remained largely silent on the issue and an increasingly powerful bloc of libertarian Republicans is leading opposition to a Syria strike; Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) is marshaling support among the more traditional hawkish Republicans.
With some Senate liberals opposed, fearing another quagmire like the Iraq war, Obama needs his 2008 presidential rival to bring along a sizable number of Republicans to win approval in the Senate.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who support a strike, have left rounding up votes to the administration. A large majority of House Republicans do not favor the president’s push amid an outpouring of opposition from constituents who opposed the resolution by about 10-to-1 margins in phone calls and e-mails, according to lawmakers and GOP aides.
“I don’t think anyone wants it to happen,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R). He noted that the Syria issue had finally gotten his eastern Utah constituents to talk about something other than their opposition to the Senate’s immigration bill.
Dwarfing the other issues, the use-of-force resolution prompted more than 100 lawmakers to return early to the Capitol last week from the end-of-summer break to examine classified information about the alleged sarin attacks that killed more than 1,400 Syrians last month.
But they predict heated clashes on the other issues.
“We’re not even talking about those issues now, but you better believe, when we get back, we will,” said Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.).
Boehner and Cantor plan to wait for the Senate to make a decision about Syria before taking up the matter in the House. Meantime, the GOP leaders plan to bring to the House floor this week a stopgap funding measure that would leave in place austerity measures mandated by the continuing inability of Obama and Congress to reach a deal on broad tax-and-entitlement reform.
They have yet to decide whether to provoke a showdown over Obama’s health-care law by attaching riders to defund the Affordable Care Act. Doing so would be opposed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and increase chances of a partial government shutdown when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.