Jonathan Strong at NRO questions whether the House will authorize a strike against Syria. He finds it unlikely that Speaker Boehner will “whip” support for authorization; nor should Boehner do so. As Strong notes, this is a “conscience” vote, and members shouldn’t be pressured to vote one way or the other.
Members of Congress tend to be influenced by the views of their constituents. Attacking Syria isn’t a terribly popular idea, but I don’t think it’s overwhelmingly unpopular either, except in certain left-wing districts. So most members, especially Republicans, can vote their conscience without worrying too much about how the vote will play back home.
Under these circumstances, it falls upon President Obama and those who support him on this issue to make a persuasive case. It’s not clear that Obama can make the case to a critical mass of House Republicans. For one thing, few House Republicans trust Obama. For another, I don’t know that he’ll have the opportunity to address the caucus in a setting conducive to alleviating their individual concerns.
One-on-one meetings with Republican leaders have occurred and likely will continue. But if the leadership is not going to “whip” anyone, it’s not clear how effective this approach will be.
In Great Britain, the corresponding occurred after a parliamentary debate in which Prime Minister Cameron was the main participant. He laid out the case for his motion and answered questions (one came from Glenda Jackson, the famous actress of yesteryear, now a left-wing MP).
I watched the debate and thought Cameron did a good job. He narrowly lost the vote because, as I see it, the British public is overwhelmingly against British military involvement in Syria.
The American public is, I believe, more closely divided. Therefore, a Cameronesque performance by Obama might well carry the day in Congress. But our system doesn’t provide him the same opportunity to deliver that kind of performance.
In the House, there won’t be a real debate; there will be short speeches by members. These speeches are unlikely to affect the vote.
Obama really could use is a forceful, credible conservative House Republican (or two) to make the case for U.S. action behind closed doors. Someone like Tom Cotton, if he favors Obama’s proposal.