“I think it’s going to be a very tough sell,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), who is often a key crossover Republican in compromises with the White House. For now, Cole said he is “leaning no” on approving any use of force against Syria.
His remarks came after a more than 21
2-hour classified briefing that drew 83 lawmakers to the Capitol, GOP aides said. They flew in from across the country on 24 hours’ notice for a rare Labor Day weekend meeting. The briefing, run by five senior national security officials, began the administration’s all-out effort to win support for what Obama has said would be a limited strike against military targets to punish Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime for carrying out a chemical attack.
White House officials have less than two weeks to secure backing in the House and the Senate, which will not formally return from their regular end-of-summer break until Sept. 9. They are expected to then immediately begin debate on military authorization, with votes by mid-September.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who has been talking to his former colleagues in the Senate, predicted victory during appearances on five Sunday talk shows.
Lawmakers from both parties said Sunday that the administration has presented convincing evidence that Assad’s government carried out the attack, citing Sunday’s closed-door briefing in an auditorium in the Capitol Visitor Center and other classified presentations that they received in the past week. The key stumbling block, they said, was the concern that a limited strike would not be an effective deterrent and would only draw the U.S. military deeper into Syria’s civil war.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of doubt that the regime undertook this attack. There’s a great deal of skepticism that a limited strike is likely to be effective,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
The uncertain outcome is rooted in a Congress that has proved deeply factionalized and dysfunctional. With Democrats running the Senate and Republicans the House, the two sides have fought to a near legislative standstill on nearly every major issue. A proposal to stiffen background checks for gun buyers died in the Senate this spring, despite having the support of 90 percent of the public. A comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, also backed by a majority of voters, has stalled.
Add to that mix a heated debate on something as consequential as war and its constitutional underpinnings, and the atmosphere on Capitol Hill could grow even more toxic.