By Alexander Bolton - 09/10/13 10:00 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Overnight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes The Trail 2016: Digging up dirt MORE (D-Nev.) faces a daunting test of his relationships with Republicans, as Democratic defections could require 16 or more GOP votes to pass a Syria resolution in the chamber.
Reid pulled out the stops on the Senate floor Monday, where he compared gas attacks linked to Syrian President Bashar Assad to Adolf Hitler’s methodical extermination of Europe’s Jews.
Reid warned the nation would be held morally responsible for failing to act, citing an inscription on the wall of the Holocaust Memorial Museum 14 blocks away from the Capitol.
“It’s on the wall. It’s from ‘Dante’s Inferno,’ ” he said.
“ ‘The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.’ ”
Reid ratcheted up the rhetoric on the Syria resolution ahead of what Senate aides predict will be a very close vote.
According to The Hill’s Whip List that is available online, 26 senators will support the president or are leaning “yes.” Twenty-five senators are opposed or leaning “no,” including 18 Republicans. Forty-nine senators are undecided.
The numbers in the House are far grimmer for President Obama: 32 in the “Yes/Leaning Yes” column and 182 in the “No/Leaning No” column.
There is a chance there might not be a vote in the wake of Syria’s warming to a diplomatic solution where the Assad government would fork over its chemical weapons. The Obama administration is reviewing that option closely.
Reid announced late Monday he would hold off scheduling a vote on a procedural motion expected Wednesday.
The president will join Senate Democrats and Republicans at their respective weekly lunch meetings on Tuesday to argue personally for authorization to attack Syria.
The charm offensive could become counterproductive in the GOP Conference, however, because Republicans have instinctively opposed Obama’s initiatives throughout his presidency. He kept his distance from immigration reform legislation earlier this year for fear of weighing it down with political baggage.
But Obama must take up the task of lobbying Senate Republicans because a strong champion for the use-of-force resolution has yet to emerge in their conference.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMellman: Parsing the polls GOP seeks to remove funding to design Gitmo alternative Big-name donors join Trump fundraising team MORE (R-Ariz.), usually the dominant proponent for a muscular U.S. foreign policy, has expressed qualms about the restricted scope of the resolution.
Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerBusiness groups push White House, Congress to improve US-India relationship The Trail 2016: Dems struggle for unity Corker meets Trump, downplays possibility he'll be VP MORE (Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who helped craft the resolution, is not making a full-on push for its passage. Along with other GOP leaders, he says it’s up to Obama to make a compelling case when the president meets with lawmakers and addresses the nation. Corker believes Obama made a tactical error by failing to identify and arm moderate elements of Syrian opposition forces earlier this year.
Obama and Vice President Biden dined with GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamRomney should endorse Clinton Graham: I'm still not supporting Trump North Korean official calls Trump idea of meeting 'nonsense' MORE (S.C.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP lawmaker: 'Republicans were wrong’ to block Garland Senate passes broad spending bill with .1B in Zika funds Senators unveil bill to overhaul apprenticeship programs MORE (Maine), Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (Ga.), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteVA secretary comes under fire for comparing wait times to Disneyland Juan Williams: Electoral map looks grim for Trump Liberal super-PAC hits Johnson for supporting Trump MORE (N.H.), Deb FischerDeb FischerSenate Republicans ask Trump to soften his tone Skittish GOP to Trump: Drop the insults Senate bill would require the administration to define 'cyber war' MORE (Neb.) and Corker on Sunday to begin the persuasion campaign. Of that group Ayotte, Collins and Fischer are undecided.
A senior GOP aide said the dinner yielded little progress, and predicted Obama would face strong skepticism at both lunches on Tuesday.
“The president’s resolution is headed for rough waters in the Senate. ... And his dinner with Republicans didn’t seem to improve his position.”
Political momentum behind the resolution has slowed as Senate offices receive a flood of constituent calls opposing military intervention in Syria. One undecided Democratic senator said calls opposing action have outnumbered calls in favor by a 9-to-1 ratio.
Ayotte, a close ally of McCain and one of the Senate’s most outspoken defense hawks, said Monday she is now undecided about whether to support the Syria resolution. The Hill’s whip list had previously reported her as “leaning yes.”
Republican senators are not inclined to help Reid carry the president’s water because they view him as one of the most partisan majority leaders of the past 50 years.
Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyDefense bill renews fight over military sexual assault Reid knocks GOP over 'light' Senate schedule Overnight Tech: Facebook finds no bias but vows to change trending feature MORE (R-Iowa), one of the chamber’s deal-
makers, strongly criticized Reid’s leadership style in an interview earlier this year.
Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Senate’s first female combat vet: VA secretary must resign VA chief 'deeply' regrets if Disney comment offended vets MORE (Mo.), who is widely viewed as a pragmatic member of the Senate GOP leadership, on Monday announced he would oppose the resolution.
“After careful consideration and a number of briefings on this topic, I believe this strategy and the unknown response it may provoke are the wrong thing to do, and I will not support the resolution the President has asked for,” he said.
Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonGOP senators: Obama bathroom guidance is 'not appropriate' Amateur theatrics: An insult to Africa Dem senator blocks push to tie 'gun ban' to spending bill MORE (R-Ga.), who had earlier been a “yes” vote, is now planning to vote “no.”
Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsGOP senators: Obama bathroom guidance is 'not appropriate' Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill Senators: Aide’s remarks show WH deception on Iran deal MORE (R-Ind.), who has a history of working with Democrats, said Monday he is highly skeptical of the call for military strikes.
He argued a limited strike could embolden Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“If an attack is ineffective in altering Assad’s behavior or fortune, will it not encourage Iran in pursuing its own weapons program?” he said.
While the top two Republican leaders in the House, Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerOvernight Finance: GOP makes its case for impeaching IRS chief | Clinton hits Trump over housing crash remarks | Ryan's big Puerto Rico win House GOP changes rules to thwart Dems Ryan secures big win with bipartisan Puerto Rico deal MORE (Ohio) and Eric CantorEric CantorJohn Feehery: GOP: Listen to Reince The Trail 2016: Dems struggle for unity Overnight Regulation: Supreme Court rejects GOP redistricting challenge MORE (Va.), have endorsed Obama’s call to action, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes Senate votes to block financial adviser rule Reid defends embattled VA secretary MORE (Ky.) has remained on the fence.
If McConnell, who is up for reelection, voices his opposition after the Senate GOP lunch Tuesday, it would make Reid’s quest for GOP votes that much harder.
The political fallout from Senate defeat of the Syria resolution could also be compounded by the passage of an amendment sponsored by Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Paul ties release of 9/11 docs to defense bill Will Ted Cruz let it go? MORE (R-Ky.) requiring the president to adhere to Congress’s decision.
Paul plans to file an amendment stating that the authority to use force resides in the Congress and can be transferred to the president only through legislation.
Reid has not said whether he will grant Paul a vote on the amendment, which could garner a tally reflecting growing opposition to the use-of-force resolution.
Obama has said he has the power to order military action against Syria, regardless of how Congress votes.
With GOP resistance stiffening, Reid could turn his focus back on wavering Democrats.
On Monday he argued that colleagues should at least vote this week to end debate on the motion to proceed to the resolution.
“Regardless of where senators stand on the merits of this issue, all should agree that we should have this debate,” he said. “I hope that all senators will support proceeding to this measure.”