Obama’s push for House, Senate votes on Syria strike
By Lynn Sweet Washington Bureau Chief September 2, 2013 10:02PM
Rep. Adam Kinzinger
Updated: October 4, 2013 6:22AM
WASHINGTON — The White House is ramping up a “flood the zone” campaign to lobby Congress to authorize a military strike against Syria, with President Barack Obama picking up the support Monday of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
“I’ll be a yes,” Kinzinger told me in an interview. “I’m going to support the president.”
Kinzinger, a pilot who is a major in the Air National Guard — he has flown missions in Iraq and Afghanistan — said Obama has the power to order a strike without Congress and taking the time for a vote “takes away the element of a surprise.”
Overall, Kinzinger concluded Obama “put a red line down I agree with.”
While Kinzinger is decided, most other members of Congress — including Illinois lawmakers — are on the fence. The other exception is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is also siding with Obama.
That it is two Republicans from Illinois — and not yet a Democrat from the state delegation — who are supporting Obama shows how unusual this lobbying drive will be, as lawmakers have a plethora of issues to consider in what may be one of the most important votes of their careers.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), a freshman, told me Monday, “this is without a doubt the biggest decision” he’s been confronted with so far. He is concerned that the language in the draft of the authorization resolution is too broad.
The Obama team is using an unusual tactic to court lawmakers: showering them with access to the president’s very top military and national security advisers in a stream of classified and unclassified briefings that started last week.
A senior administration official said, “The strategy is to flood the zone,” even as members are scattered with Congress on recess and not due back until Sept. 9.
On Tuesday, Obama will be meeting with top Democratic and GOP members from House and Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Intelligence committee.
In the afternoon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Joints Chief Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. On Wednesday Kerry and Hagel appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
After a fund-raiser in downstate Belleville and a Labor Day event in Granite City, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — a member of the foreign relations panel, a Defense Department appropriator flew to Washington from St. Louis for the run-up to the Syria showdown vote. Durbin canceled his Monday speech before the City Club of Chicago on federal prison sentencing guidelines. So far, Durbin is undeclared on Syria.
Obama is positioned to prevail in the Democratic-controlled Senate — especially since Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are leaning toward backing Obama. After meeting with the president on Monday, McCain said it would be “catastrophic” if Congress did not back the president.
The House is the biggest challenge for Obama, with plenty of skeptics in both parties.
“The shadow of Iraq looms so large over everything we do in foreign policy,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told me Monday. While undecided, “I’m gettable,” she said.
The march to getting 218 votes in the House to pass a Syria measure involves unusual alliances on this issue. The House has a large number of freshmen — 49 Democrats and 36 Republicans — and they may well be the most nervous about taking their toughest vote just as the 2014 primary season is taking shape.
In my analysis, groups in the House eventually backing Obama will be:
♦ Centrist Democrats from safe districts.
♦ Christian Evangelicals, mainly Republicans, who will view this as an Israeli security issue.
♦ Neocons, Republicans who are pro-U.S. intervention in global affairs.
♦ Mainline liberal Democrats.
♦ The GOP and Democrats who are the chairs and ranking members of the Intelligence, Armed Service and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Obama is facing resistance from:
♦ The Congressional Black Caucus, whose members have many other priorities.
♦ Hard-line isolationists on the right, which includes Libertarians.
♦ Anti-war leftists who just never vote for war.
♦ Anti-Obama Republicans who object to anything the president wants.
♦ Democratic progressives who lean toward opposing military force and who are haunted by the Iraq war. The leading progressive — House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — is backing Obama.
Robert Creamer, a senior strategist at Americans United for Change who specializes in progressive politics — and Schakowsky’s husband — published a Huffington Post column Monday making the case for progressives to support Obama on Syria.
What’s going on there is a pitch for progressives not to lock themselves early on into a position rejecting Obama — before he has the chance to “flood the zone.”