President Obama cleared one of the most important hurdles Tuesday in his effort to win support in Congress for taking action against Syria: Both of the top Republican House leaders — Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia — said they would support such a resolution.
But just what the resolution will say, in terms of how much leeway Congress is willing to give the president, remains unclear. There’s no guarantee of success regardless. Any version’s chances for passage are highly uncertain at this point. No votes are expected until next week, when the House and Senate return from their summer recess.
What is certain, however, is that the president won’t get the exact authorization language he initially proposed.
Senate To Act First
Most presidents in recent years have acted first, then asked Congress for retroactive approval. By calling on Congress to okay action in Syria in advance, Obama has opened up a scenario in which the two chambers will “work their will” — meaning any resolution will be subject to amendment and, potentially, a filibuster in the Senate.
It appears that the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, will act first. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he expects draft language will be ready today or possibly Wednesday, NPR’s Ailsa Chang reports.
Corker said it would be good for senators to have a chance to examine the language before returning to the Capitol next week.
House aides said they also expect the Senate to vote first, with House action not coming until later next week.
“When they come back, they’re going to want to have several days to mull it,” says James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
Lines Of Opposition
It could be a tough sell. Far more members are publicly undecided than openly supportive of military action at this point.
A number of Democrats have issued statements saying that they are skeptical about the use of force and fear another foreign entanglement following Iraq and Afghanistan. Many Republicans have also been critical, arguing that Obama has not outlined a clear strategy.
For all these reasons, the final resolution is likely to be fairly limited in its scope.
“Some are looking for language that is much more targeted, so as not to authorize something that could lead to a broader war,” says former Rep. Tom Perriello, a Virginia Democrat who is now at the Center for American Progress and favors intervention.
On The Agenda
In the meantime, the relevant committees are holding rounds of hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The committee will hold a closed hearing regarding Syria on Wednesday, as will the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will meet privately with Hagel and Dempsey.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kerry and Hagel will both testify publicly before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Obama, who has held multiple meetings with members of Congress over the past few days, will be flying to Sweden Tuesday night before attending the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.