By Mike Lillis - 09/04/13 08:16 PM EDT
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is asking House Democrats for more input in the Syria debate.
Pelosi's request is part of a broader effort to formulate a resolution for Syrian intervention that can pass through the House in the face of widespread misgivings from rank-and-file members on both sides of the aisle.
"Our continuing discussion on the appropriate response to the Syrian government’s actions is affected by Congress not being in session. However, this week is an important one in our discussion of what House Members are willing to support," Pelosi wrote.
"Please offer further suggestions or ideas you may have as to what you can support, so I can convey your concerns to the White House."
While Pelosi says she's not formally whipping a Syria vote, there's pressure on her to rally votes in support of a Democratic president whose decision to seek congressional authorization on Syria has risen to a level of controversy rivaling that of the intervention itself.
Pelosi's success rallying her troops behind Obama's request could decide the resolution's fate. While the top two House GOP leaders — Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) — have endorsed Obama's calls for U.S. military strikes, they almost certainly won't have enough support from their conservative conference to pass an authorization proposal without help from the Democrats.
The strange political dynamics give Pelosi and Democratic leaders rare leverage for a minority party in the House, but they too are facing a good deal of resistance from their own caucus on the Syria question.
More than 50 liberal Democrats wrote to Obama last week warning the White House that any military intervention without congressional approval would be unconstitutional. And even Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat and a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has declined to endorse the strikes Obama is requesting.
"Issues of war & peace require thoughtful consideration," Clyburn tweeted Tuesday. "I reserve judgment on Syria until a resolution and more details are forthcoming."
Pelosi said she's already hearing from some wary Democrats about how to tweak the authorization proposal, including "suggestions to add language to prevent boots on the ground, to tie the authorization more closely to the use of chemical weapons and to address concerns about an open-ended timetable."
On Tuesday, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) floated alternative language that would install some of those changes, including a prohibition on ground troops and a defined authorization window.
"It isn't designed to be an all-comprehensive approach to Syria or the Syrian crisis," Connolly told MSNBC Tuesday night. "It's designed to address this tragic event with this remedy on a limited basis."
Still, some liberal Democrats are doubtful that even a narrowly targeted resolution would ensure that a Syrian intervention won't become the next Iraq war.
"You start a war, nobody's going to tell you that you can limit [it]," Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC. "Once you get in, all these resolutions mean nothing."
Pelosi has not endorsed the administration's Syria resolution, but she is one of the loudest proponents of U.S. military intervention on humanitarian grounds.
On Tuesday, she suggested that any lawmakers opposed to such an intervention is either ignorant of Assad's attacks on civilians or willing to look the other way.
"It's a question of discussing to make sure that people have the information that they need to make an informed decision," Pelosi said following a meeting with Obama and congressional leaders at the White House. "And then Members have to decide, are they willing … to ignore the fact that this humanitarian disaster took place or not?"