By Mike Lillis - 09/10/13 09:37 PM EDT
Both President Obama and the country on the whole would be weakened if Congress fails to back military strikes in Syria, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned Tuesday.
"It will be inimical to our country's standing if we do not show a willingness to act in the face of chemical weapons," Hoyer, the Democratic whip, told reporters during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol. "As well, it is important that we support the president to give the president the credibility as the leader of our country and our principal person responsible for handling the foreign policy of the United States of America.
The remarks came as Democratic leaders — including Obama, Hoyer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.) — pressed their case for U.S. military intervention in Syria in response to the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians.
Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing limited strikes on the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, but widespread skepticism on both sides of the aisle in the House has led to real doubts that a similar measure could pass the lower chamber.
"You'd have to be coming in from another planet to be optimistic on this vote," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a supporter of the strikes, told The Hill on Friday.
Democratic leaders are voicing a cautious optimism that a Russian offer to get Syria's chemical weapons under international control will eliminate the need for U.S. strikes to prevent another chemical attack by Assad.
But they're also being careful not to limit Obama's options as the administration continues delicate talks with Russia about potentially defusing the Syrian threat.
"It is not necessary for Congress to give the president this authority," Pelosi said Tuesday. "But if he sees an opportunity, we don't want the Russians to think that his leverage is diminished because of a vote we may or may not succeed with in the Congress."
Hoyer emphasized Tuesday that Democratic leaders will not formally whip a use-of-force resolution. But he urged members to consider the security implications surrounding the vote.
"It's not so much whipping them as it is trying to get them information, and perspective and my opinion," Hoyer said Tuesday. "Each member's going to have to decide for themselves what they believe is in the best interest of their country and international security."