House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked if a majority of Democrats would vote to authorize an airstrike. "I don't know," she responded, according to Time magazine on Thursday. President Obama not only has to convince skeptical Republicans to authorize a military strike in Syria, he has to keep his liberal allies from rebelling. Like Obama, many of these Democrats built their political brand on opposition to the Iraq war. On Wednesday, White House officials held a conference call to lobby liberal members of Congress. They weren't entirely convinced.
One person on the Wednesday call was California Rep. Barbara Lee (pictured above), who told The Washington Post's Greg Sargent that Obama officials were "frank" and "forthright," but they didn't win her over. "They’ve been very persuasive about the intelligence and the fact that we must do something," Lee said. "They were not persuasive for me that the only option right now is a military option."
Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, tells The Wall Street Journal, "If I had to vote today, I would cast a 'no' vote." So would most of the House and maybe the Senate, "sources" tell Politico's Mike Allen. "The support of the top leader in each chamber is doing little to overcome what a number of members call surprisingly unconvincing private briefings by the White House, State and Pentagon," Allen reports. Early next week, National Security Adviser Susan Rice will brief members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
According to The Washington Post's tally, in the House, at 86 are opposed to airstrikes, and 92 are leaning against it. In the Senate, there are 13 "nos" and 10 "lean no"s. Washington Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat, tells the Journal he's one of the "no"s: "I am not voting my party. I am not voting my president. I am voting my country." Indicating Obama would need a significant number of Republican votes, Pelosi told Time, "I think it would be important to get a majority in the Congress. But I don't know if it’s important how you would break it down. These issues are not really partisan."
Another CBC member, Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, explains to The New York Times that liberals have to balance two things:
"The prestige of an administration we strongly support versus an open-ended conflict in the Middle East that risks the lives of the people we represent if war were to break out. Not to mention the diversion of resources back into our communities that sorely need it."
CBC chairwoman Marcia Fudge tried to shush skeptical members. In an email, the Ohio representative asked them "to limit public comment on the issue," The Hill reports. But that email went out Tuesday. Clearly some CBC members are ignoring it.