The ongoing debate over Syria will not be the defining issue of the 2014 midterm elections, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington, Israel said the election will pivot on "the middle class," which political party presents "solutions," and competing visions over President Obama's health care law.
"It will be referendum not on Obamacare, but on who is trying to make it work and who is trying to destroy it," said Israel.
Israel weighed in on the debate over Syria in his own capacity as a congressman, not as head of the DCCC, which he said is "emphatically neutral" on the matter. A proponent of military action against the Syrian government in response to an alleged deadly chemical attack, Israel said he is hopeful but cautious about an alternate proposal put forth by the Russian government Monday. Russia called on Syria to turn over control of its chemical weapons to international authorities to head off a United States military attack.
"Now we have to see if that path is credible. I hope that it is," Israel said.
Obama's call for military action faces deep skepticism on Capitol Hill and among the American public, which polls show is strongly against a strike. Charging that House Republicans are playing politics on Syria, Israel said that if Mitt Romney had been elected president in 2012 and presented Congress with the same resolution Obama did, the level of GOP support would be higher.
"Let's not be fooled," he said.
Democrats are facing an uphill climb trying to win back the House majority in 2014. They must pick up 17 seats to do so, and Israel said "it's just way too early to say" whether it will happen. But he said he was hopeful the fall fiscal debates in Congress will boost Democratic chances.
Israel said there is a universe of 52 districts in which Democrats hope to play offense this cycle, most of which were won by Republicans by fewer than 10 percentage points. He didn't specify which districts he was talking about.
On the flip side, there are about 25 or 26 districts that Democrats have to defend, Israel said, adding that he is "not losing sleep over our defense at all."