The U.S. Congress formally reconvenes on Monday and will take up a debate on the move. But eyes will be on President Barack Obama as he prepares for a major speech on Tuesday, making an appeal to the American public.
“The president has an obligation to make his case for intervention directly to the American people,” says Brendan Buck, the spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio and the top lawmaker in the House of Representatives. His office has fielded requests from Hill colleagues who say they can’t sell intervention in Syria to war-weary voters.
“Members of Congress represent the views of their constituents, and only a president can convince the public that military action is required,” says Buck.
Here’s a preview of what’s likely to unfold:
Syria, Facing the Senate
Over the next two weeks the Senate and the House of Representatives will each debate, then vote on whether to authorize a Syria strike.
On Monday the U.S. Senate will convene and take up the debate. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate’s top lawmaker, says he believes the Senate will vote to authorize military action in Syria. “I think we are going to have 60 votes,” he told reporters on Friday.
A resolution authorizing the use of force, passed by the Senate Foreign Relations committee earlier this week, will need a “yes” vote of 60 or more in the full Senate to pass. The Senate vote could be as early as Wednesday.
Next Up, A Hesitant House of Representatives
After the Senate votes on a Syria strike, the debate on Syria will likely begin in the House of Representatives. The authorization for a Syria strike would have to pass in both chambers before the president can sign the measure into law.
It is in the House of Representatives that the administration is expected to have more difficulty gaining support. The House is dominated by a Republican majority, and many of the lawmakers there often vote against Democratic policies.
In an apparent early victory, the administration managed to secure the support of the top Republican lawmakers in the House: Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. But rank-and-file Republicans remain hesitant, and some are vocally opposing the resolution.
In an op-ed in a local Virginia newspaper, Cantor expressed frustration with the president’s Syria policy but said that ultimately, the issue of Syria goes beyond partisan lines and that he would support him.
“Frankly, two years of mixed signals from the Obama administration, misplaced focus and a routine lack of outreach to members of Congress have fueled pessimism in this mission,” he wrote. “I share that frustration. But it’s not just the President’s credibility that is on the line; it is America’s leadership in a troubled world that is in question.”
Convincing a Skeptical Public
At a rowdy town hall in Phoenix, Ariz. last week, one man voiced the concern of millions. “Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? Its not our fight,” he said at the event, hosted by pro-intervention Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
McCain said that the action he was supporting did not involve “boots on the ground,” to which attendees shouted “not good enough, not good enough.”
“There’s no good option here,” McCain said. “If I had a good option for you, I would tell you exactly what it is.”
Samantha Power, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressed public skepticism in her remarks in Washingtonon Friday. Power said she recognized “how ambivalent Americans are about the situation,” but that the U.S. had “exhausted” all other diplomatic options and “there is no risk-free door number two.”
President Obama also weighed in on public opinion from the G20 summit in Russia. “I understand the skepticism. I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through systematically, making the case to every senator and every member of Congress. And that’s what we’re doing,” the president said.
A Divided Senate
The vote in the Senate could be close and isn’t breaking down along predictable partisan lines. An unlikely coalition of liberal and conservative senators are crossing party lines to vote against intervention. The pro-action contingent is also bipartisan, made up of moderates from both sides of the aisle.
“The risks of the president’s strategy far outweigh the possible gains. We cannot ask our men and women in uniform to engage in a military conflict that does not present a national security threat to the United States,” wrote Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) in a statement laying out his argument against intervention. Lee is backed by the Tea Party.
On the other side of the spectrum, Chris Murphy (D-CT) laid out an almost identical argument for his “no” vote. “There is not always an American solution to every international crisis,” he said. “I voted ‘no’ because I believe that the downside risks of military action, both for U.S. interests and the Syrian people, outweigh the potential benefits.”