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Boehner backs Obama as Senate support grows: Sweet

House Speaker John Boehner Ohio listens as President Barack Obamspeaks mediCabinet Room White House WashingtTuesday Sept. 3 2013 before meeting

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens as President Barack Obama speaks to media, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, before a meeting with between the president and Congressional leaders to discuss the situation in Syria. Boehner said he will support the president's call for the U.S. to take action against Syria for alleged chemical weapons use and says his Republican colleagues should support the president, too. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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Updated: October 5, 2013 6:33AM



WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is poised to vote Wednesday to attack Syria after reaching a bipartisan deal, as President Barack Obama’s bid to win congressional authorization to order a military strike gained crucial support from rival House leaders.

Obama boarded Air Force One late Tuesday for an overnight flight to Stockholm with his drive to win House and Senate votes to approve an attack gaining momentum.

A war vote is one of the most important a lawmaker can make. It is defining.

Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle are treating it as a fairly rare “conscience vote.” Unlike some roll calls with agendas — say the 40 or so Republican bids to repeal or defang ObamaCare — there is an understanding that most rank-and-file members will be free to vote without undue leadership pressure.

Obama is in good shape in the Democratic-run Senate. The GOP-controlled House, as always, will be tougher. The pressure will be on wavering House Democrats — especially from safe districts — when and if Obama needs a few more votes to win.

The Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday night, after an afternoon hearing, announced a deal over the wording of a resolution to give Obama authority to use force “in a limited and tailored manner against legitimate military targets in Syria.”

The senators on the panel, who will debate the measure on Wednesday, put Obama on a 90-day timetable to hit the Assad regime — with an initial 60-day authorization followed for a “single” 30-day extension.

The resolution, expected to clear the committee, could reach the Senate floor next week, when members return from the summer recess.

Secretary of State John Kerry had to scramble after he fumbled an answer at the Senate hearing seeming to leave the door open to sending troops to Syria, even though Obama has been explicit and adamant in saying there would be no U.S. boots on the ground.

“I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country,” said Kerry, who was the committee chairman until Obama tapped him for the State Department post.

After Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the committee, pressed him over his ground troops remark, Kerry kicked himself several times as he closed the door he opened.

“Well, let me be very clear now because I don’t want anything coming out of this hearing that leaves any door open to any possibility. So let’s shut that door now as tight as we can,” Kerry said.

“All I did was raise a hypothetical question about some possibility — and I’m thinking out loud — about how to protect America’s interests. But if you want to know whether there’s any — you know, the answer is, whatever prohibition clarifies it to Congress and the American people, there will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.”

Section 3 of the resolution states there will be no U.S. armed forces “on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations.”

After meeting with Obama at the White House on Tuesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “I’m going to support the president’s call for action. I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), also at the meeting, agreed, saying, “the Speaker was very clear, and I’m sure he has told you his view. I associated myself with his remarks.”

That doesn’t mean Boehner feels obligated to make sure GOP House members deliver for the president. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a West Point graduate and a retired Army Reservist, announced Tuesday he opposed giving Obama approval for a Syria hit.

Pelosi is the one who has to deliver votes — and she’s got plenty of skeptical Democrats to persuade.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement, “The Speaker offered his support for the president’s call to action, and encourages all Members of Congress to do the same.

“Now, it is the president’s responsibility to make his case to the American people and their elected representatives. Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the Speaker expects the White House to provide answers to Members’ questions and take the lead on any whipping effort. All votes authorizing the use of military force are conscience votes for members, and passage will require direct, continuous engagement from the White House.”

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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