By Mike Lillis - 09/10/13 04:19 PM EDT
House Democrats are lining up in support of a possible diplomatic response to Syria's alleged chemical weapons attacks.
Behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the lawmakers say they're hopeful a Russian offer to secure the international transfer of Syria's chemical weapons will preclude President Obama's proposal to launch military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.
She later said, “Let us pray that the Russian proposal is one that will avoid the use of force.”
The diplomatic approach, which evolved rapidly Monday from an offhand suggestion by Secretary of State John Kerry to a strategy backed by Syria, Russia and Obama, seems to have given the White House an exit to the Syria dilemma at a time when the president is struggling to rally even Democrats behind his proposal to strike the war-torn country in response to Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who's leaning against a use-of-force resolution, suggested the diplomatic approach allows skeptical Democrats to thread the needle between preventing Assad from using chemical weapons again and supporting Obama “without necessarily supporting military action immediately.”
“I'm putting my whole heart and soul into getting a diplomatic settlement because that's what I think the answer is,” Pascrell said after Tuesday's caucus meeting.
Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), who also remains undecided on the Syria vote, echoed that message.
“There's a lot of hope that the Russia proposal … will be successful,” Andrews said.
The Syria question has been a tricky one for Pelosi, who'd emerged as one of the most vocal backers of Obama's call for military strikes but has also had little success convincing her liberal-leaning caucus to get on board.
“Still deciding,” Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said as he left Tuesday's meeting.
Pelosi said there's some disagreement among Democratic leaders and rank-and-file members about whether to take the Syria question to the United Nations for a vote.
“In our caucus, there's really a strong interest among members to take this to the U.N.,” she said. “We've tried to point out the futility of it because the Russians are never going to vote with us, so we think. But the members are saying, 'Well then let the world see that they don't want to.’”
Pelosi questioned whether that process is “a good use of time.”
“That's a debate that we are having,” she said.
Pelosi on Tuesday also repeated her long-held argument that Obama does not need Congress's permission to use military force in Syria, though she said she's “grateful that he has asked for it.”
The Democratic leader called Russia's offer “a victory” for Obama.
But Pelosi also warned that those lawmakers arguing that Obama requires an authorization resolution to use military force in Syria could cause Russia to back away from their diplomatic offer.
“We don't want the Russians to think that his [Obama's] leverage is diminished because of a vote we may or may not succeed with in the Congress,” Pelosi said.
She added that she's “more optimistic than some” about how the resolution would fare in Congress.
Many Democrats said Tuesday that they're eager to hear Obama's message Tuesday night, when he's schedule to make his case for a Syrian intervention with a primetime address.
McDonough, for his part, declined to comment after Tuesday's meeting.