Sen. John McCain will not support the Senate's draft resolution that would authorize military strikes in Syria, because it is too narrow. "There are a number of people who are unhappy," McCain told reporters on Wednesday. It shows how hard it will be for President Obama to successfully lobby Congress to vote for airstrikes. McCain is the most prominent Republican in favor of intervention. But while he wants Obama to have more power, many other members of Congress, particularly House Republicans, are wary of voting to authorize force because they think the powers it will give Obama will be too broad.
Obama continued to pressure Congress in a press conference in Sweden on Wednesday, saying, "I didn’t set a red line" — a reference to when he suggested Syrian President Bashar al Assad would not get away with using chemical weapons — "The world set a red line." And Congress "set a red line when it ratified that treaty." It was another moment in Obama's week-long lobbying effort to overcome the American public's opposition to airstrikes, a House Republican majority that does not like him, and dovish Democratic members of Congress.
On Tuesday, three top White House aides met with half a dozen veterans of President Obama's election campaigns to figure out how to sell a military strike in Syria to the public, The Washington Post's Julie Eilperin reports. A participant said it was about "what had occurred, the administration's thinking and a conversation about how to communicate that to the American people." Many of the Obama alums just so happen to now have media gigs, like Jon Favreau (a former speechwriter who now writes for The Daily Beast), Stephanie Cutter (former deputy campaign manager who's now on CNN's Crossfire), Robert Gibbs (former press secretary who's now an MSNBC contributor), David Axelrod (former campaign adviser who's now a political analyst for MSNBC). A similar Obama alum group met in May to figure out how to contain the damage following the IRS scandal.
The White House also has to convince Democrats who are skeptical of war and Republicans who are skeptical of Obama. The Republican talking point is that the responsibility to pass a Syria resolution lies on the shoulders of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "It’s safe to say that Pelosi is going to have to post a big number," a House GOP aide told Politico on Saturday. Pelosi "is going to have to post a big number" a senior House GOP aide told Reuters on Sunday. "Pelosi needs to post a big number," a GOP aide told CNN. Aides reportedly say as much as 80 percent of House Republicans are opposed to airstrikes in Syria. This is "Pelosi's test," Politico's Ginger Gibson reported Wednesday night. A Pelosi aide countered, "I think it’s a process and at the end of the day we’ll get there, but it’s going to take significant votes on both sides... I don’t think it’s useful for anyone to get into conversation about what the ratio will be."
Both House Speaker John Boehner and Republican leader Eric Cantor have endorsed airstrikes in Syria, but a House GOP aide told The National Review's Jonathan Strong there is "no way it's going to pass." Other aides tell Strong that "the dynamics of the vote" will likely look like the vote on Rep. Justin Amash's amendment that would have blocked the NSA from collecting data on Americans not suspected of a crime. The amendment failed 217 to 205 — 111 Democrats voted for it, 83 voted against it, while 93 Republicans voted for it, and 134 against.
And there is a growing suspicion that the White House actually wants its lobbying effort to be difficult — impossible, in fact. One reason Republicans are reluctant, Strong reports, is that there is "a widespread belief on the Hill" that Obama wants congressional authorization not for any legal reasons, but because he wants "to share the political risk of action with Congress." The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, too, reports that's the "tongue-in-cheek" interpretation from Hill aides. "Boxed in by red-line rhetoric and the Sunday show warriors, the Obama administration needed to somehow mobilize the opposition to war in Syria. It did that by 'fumbling' the roll-out terribly," Klein writes.