Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was pummeled on Thursday in Phoenix by constituents angered by his support for authorizing a limited U.S. strike against Syria for its use of chemical weapons in that country’s civil war.
During a tense town hall meeting, one woman with family in Syria declared, “We cannot afford to turn Syria into another Iraq. Or Afghanistan . . . I beg you.”
Democratic Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia – who is undecided on whether to support the resolution -- got similar treatment during a visit to a senior citizens’ home in Woodbridge, VA, where he had intended to talk about Social Security and Medicare. Instead, he spent much of his time fielding questions about Syria. “Why does it have to be us that lead this?” 72-year-old Beverly Stohr asked Connolly, according to the Washington Post. “Why can’t it be the U.N.?”
“Because Russia blocks everything,” Connolly replied.
In a roll of the dice, President Obama is staking the credibility of the United States and his presidency on his surprise call for congressional authority to attack the Syrian government and “degrade” its military capability. The plan is not to send in U.S. troops.
Military action against Syria is largely unpopular with the American public. A new Washington Post/ABC poll shows that six in 10 people (or 59 percent) oppose missile strikes. Just 36 percent favor taking military action in Syria.
As Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and scores of senior administration officials waged a full-court press to try to win congressional support next week for a joint resolution authorizing a military air strike of limited duration, lawmakers are getting an earful from their constituents – and it’s all pretty negative.
Obama announced today during a press conference in Russia that he would deliver a major address to the country on Tuesday to explain at length his rationale for attacking the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday narrowly approved a resolution authorizing a military strike on Syria that would be limited to 90 days and prohibits U.S. boots on the ground. The vote was 10 to 7. Five Republicans and two Democrats voted against it.
But many Democratic and Republican lawmakers say they are unconvinced that the U.S. should engage militarily in Syria, even after receiving closed door classified briefings from national security officials. The House and Senate likely will debate and vote on a final resolution next week when Congress returns from its August recess.
But preliminary counts show the resolution is in big trouble in both chambers.
Senators are largely undecided on whether they will vote in favor of a military strike in Syria. According to the Washington Post’s latest whip count, 52 Senators are undecided, 10 are leaning toward voting no, 15 already said they oppose any military action in Syria, and 23 (mostly Democrats) will vote for the resolution.
Meanwhile, the prospects are looking increasingly dim in the Republican-controlled House, despite House Speaker John Boehner’s support of the president. At least 103 representatives have said they will vote against the resolution, and 102 said they are leaning toward voting no. Just 24 representatives say they support taking military action, and 142 are undecided, according to the Post’s whip count for 371 out of the 435 House members.
And some opponents warn that lawmakers who side with the president on Syria will face retribution from war-weary constituents in the next election. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a libertarian who strongly opposes U.S. intervention, tweeted Thursday that “If you’re voting yes on military action in Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition.”
Two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, are urging a different approach in a draft resolution they have begun circulating, according to Politico.
The U.S. could give Syria 45 days to sign an international chemical weapons ban or face the wrath of American military might. The alternative to a use-of-force resolution could forestall an immediate American strike and create an incentive for Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people again, Manchin and Heitkamp contend. This effort potentially could provide a rallying point for lawmakers who are reluctant to either approve strikes or reject the use of force outright.