How bad has it gotten for The One? Quote: “In their private moments, Mr. Obama’s allies said even the argument that his presidency would for all intents and purposes be over did not sway some unsympathetic Democrats, frustrated over how few victories there have been to hang on to in Mr. Obama’s fifth year in office.”
The House was always going to be a heavy lift, and cracking 60 in the Senate wouldn’t have been easy given the depth of public opposition, but a bare majority in a chamber controlled by O’s own party? That’s a fait accompli.
On the Democratic side, the impact [of the Russian proposal] is less clear. Aides suggest it could make some Dems marginally more inclined to support strikes, on the theory that a more credible threat of force later could make a diplomatic solution more likely. “With news that the White House is open to working with the UN, I think this is in furtherance of passing whatever the final resolution is,” one Dem leadership aide tells me.
It’s my understanding that senior Democrats and White House advisers have not yet begun to make such a case internally to wavering lawmakers, though it seems possible you may hear it being made before long.
The overall impact of all this, as best as I can determine, is that it’s allowed Dems to, in effect, stop the internal bleeding of support in Congress for Obama’s strikes.
A senior Senate aide tells me that support for the authorization of strikes had not yet reached 50 Senators, even privately, meaning its passage is in doubt, even in the Senate. “This allows for a pause in the decision-making process,” the aide says.
How could there not be 51 votes in a chamber with 55 Democrats? WaPo breaks it down. Some are hardcore liberals and therefore likely to vote no on principle; some are up for reelection next year in red states, knowing that Republicans are trending hard against intervention; some are retiring and thus have nothing to lose by disappointing The One; and some are thinking about running for president and worried that voting yes might be a liability in the primaries in 2016. Or maybe they were all simply turned off by the White House’s classified briefings on Syria? Anecdotally, per ABC, those seem to be generating a lot more nays than yays in the House:
After listening to a classified briefing from five senior administration officials this evening, two more lawmakers came out in opposition to strikes against Syria, one went from undecided to leaning against, while another dozen hardened their positions from “lean against” to opposed…
Perhaps more troubling for President Obama are the tougher positions of many lawmakers who, until the briefing, had been only leaning against the resolution.
Tonight, Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Charles Boustany, Scott DesJarlais, Tom Graves, Brett Guthrie, Gregg Harper, Sam Johnson, Frank LoBiondo, Blaine Luetkemeyer, Kenny Marchant, Alan Nunnelee and Steve Womack all closed the door on supporting authorization for military force.
I’m honestly curious now to see what O’s going to say tonight at this big White House “red line” pep rally. Usually there are few things more predictable than a presidential speech, but Putin keeps tossing curveballs at him. Up until an hour ago, it was a cinch that Obama would endorse the Russian weapons proposal and call for a “pause” in Congress or whatever while things play out diplomatically. That would get him off the hook from an historic humiliation in both the House and Senate while letting him boast that his muscle-flexing finally forced Assad to cough up his WMD. Now, with Putin insisting that O has to renounce muscle-flexing as a condition of the deal, what happens? Obama can’t say “to hell with Russia” and demand that Congress vote immediately; he’ll still lose badly and then he’ll have no diplomatic option with which to kinda sorta save face. I think he’ll end up endorsing the Russian plan but emphasizing that under no circumstances will the U.S. promise not to attack if Assad drags his feet. That’s the only way to thread the needle on “credibility,” simultaneously ducking a congressional vote that would destroy it while defying Putin’s demands.
Exit question: What happens if Putin then turns around and says, “Okay, if you won’t renounce force, the deal’s off”? What’s Obama’s move then?
Update: And there you have it.
#Breaking: Obama wants to delay a vote on authorizing force in Syria until a diplomatic solution has a chance to play out.
— POLITICO (@politico) September 10, 2013
BREAKING: UN Council meeting on Syria postponed: envoys
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) September 10, 2013
His “strategy” now is simply to buy time. If things work out for him at the UN, great. Then he can walk away from this “red line” crap. If they don’t work out and Russia ends up obstructing, that’s okay too. Watching Putin try to thwart the U.S. at every turn will only help build support in Congress for striking a blow at his Syrian client. And if, while we’re waiting for the UN to decide, Assad does something nutty by using gas again, that’s A-OK by Obama too. He’ll attack straightaway and can forget about congressional logistics.