President Obama’s request for congressional approval of a military strike in Syria is facing failure and could need a significant game-changer to pass the House.
While the authorization request might pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, substantial numbers of war-weary Republicans and Democrats oppose it in the GOP-held House.
A Washington Post/ABC poll released this week found 59 percent of voters opposed a military strike, while a Pew Research poll found opposition at 48 percent.
According to The Hill's Whip List, 100 House members are now "no" votes or are leaning against military authorization. Seventy-two of them are Republicans and 28 are Democrats. Only 31 House members — 10 Republicans and 21 Democrats — are "yes" votes or are "leaning yes."
Those numbers make it clear the administration certainly has a long way to go to secure majority approval. Here are some things it is considering or may need to consider.
Have Obama address nation
The White House says the president is actively thinking about making an address to the country on Syria, something lawmakers on both sides have urged him to consider.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called it a necessary step, and predicted Obama would make the address “later this week.”
In an interview with The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) suggested it was the best way for Obama to shift momentum.
“I think he’ll need to go on TV, in primetime,” Sherman said. “The active public is against this. I don’t know a member of Congress whose e-mails and phone calls are in favor of this.”
Calls for a national address have also come from GOP Sen. John Cornyn (Texas).
The risk for Obama is that in delivering a prime-time address from the Oval Office to the public on Syria, he will dramatically raise the stakes. If the House rejects the authorization after a dramatic plea from Obama, it will diminish his standing even more.
But the stakes are already high, and if the president loses the House vote and doesn’t give a speech, people will surely second-guess the decision.
Mark Pfeifle, who was deputy national security adviser for strategic communications in the George W. Bush administration, said Obama missed a key opportunity this week to shape public opinion by focusing on Congress.
Now he has to double down to try to win back public sentiment.
“It has to go beyond congressional hearings, which are important, but it has to go to talking every day to people where they are in coffee shops talking about this,” Pfeifle said.
Improve his case
Lawmakers receiving classified briefings say they’re convinced Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.
The public — which hasn’t seen the same evidence — isn’t as sure.
The Obama administration faces an uphill climb in Syria partly because of the Iraq War, which was launched on the faulty intelligence — described as “slam-dunk” intel by then-CIA chief George Tenet — that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is arguing publicly that U.S. evidence of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime is flimsy, and many Americans believe him.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Thursday said the CIA would provide a DVD of the attack to all lawmakers to convince them of the need for action.
“I think that the prohibition on chemical weapons is well founded, and after you watch exactly what happens, you can see why that’s so,” said Feinstein, who supports Obama's call for action.
What might be even more necessary is to provide the public with some of those images — and the intelligence tha's convinced the administration of the need for a strike.
Tend to the base
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will back a strike, but they aren’t whipping their members.
And most House Republicans aren’t going to vote for Obama. The president could be looking at a scenario where he — at best — wins just 80 Republican votes.
That means Obama must win Democrats.
Many on the left are philosophically opposed to a strike in Syria, but they are politically inclined to back the president.
There are already signs that Obama realizes this.
On Monday, Obama will send national security adviser Susan Rice to a briefing with the Congressional Black Caucus.
Courting these members and then securing as many of their votes as possible is the best chance Obama has of pulling a victory out of the House.
Roll up sleeves and do the work
Obama has repeatedly been criticized for an unwillingness to put in the work necessary to get his way with Congress.
To win on Syria, he’s going to have to make calls, bring people to the White House and in some cases twist some arms.
Obama launched a charm offensive earlier this year with centrist Senate Republicans in the hope of securing a fiscal deal. It failed.
The president’s calls and pleadings could find an easier audience with Democrats who don’t want to see the president suffer a humiliating defeat.
While in Russia at the G-20, Obama started calling members of the Senate.
He’ll have to double his efforts to win in the House.