Senate plows ahead with plans for Syria vote

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is plowing ahead with a vote on using force against Syria, even though House opposition has swelled and his two top deputies remain undecided.

He will set up a vote to end debate on the use-of-force measure for Wednesday. Proponents of the measure may note the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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President Obama’s critics, however, may point out it’s also the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to argue that Congress should worry about inadvertently aiding al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.

Reid and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) have spearheaded the push for votes within the Democratic caucus, lobbying senators worried about the nation’s involvement in another Middle Eastern conflict.

A senior Democratic aide said Reid “is having private conversations” with colleagues from his home in Nevada. He is due to return to Washington Friday to manage the filing of the Syria resolution on the Senate floor.

The aide argued that Reid does not have to be in the Capitol to be a potent force.

“Sometimes the most effective way is to give people time and space to make their own decisions. There’s plenty of time before the vote happens,” the aide said.

Growing opposition in the House has raised concerns about vulnerable Democratic senators voting for a politically dangerous resolution that may be doomed in the lower chamber.

Reid is forging ahead despite the reluctance of some colleagues, including his top deputies.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) was initially undecided before voting for the resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday. On Saturday, he voiced opposition to “engaging in a war” or “making a long-term military commitment.” Durbin felt reassured after Senate negotiators added language to the resolution limiting the scope of any armed engagement.

Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the leadership, is still undecided.

Iranian military authorities have warned a strike on Syria would provoke a retaliatory attack on Israel.

The Senate vote could happen sooner than Wednesday, depending on the pace of the floor proceedings. Reid wants to vote on final passage before the end of the week, a Democratic aide said.

One undecided Democratic senator said that 95 percent of the constituent calls to his office are opposed to U.S. military involvement in Syria.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an undecided independent who caucuses with Democrats, reported similar opposition from his constituents.

“I intend to keep an open mind with regard to the president’s proposal on Syria but at this point I have serious reservations,” he said in a statement. “These reservations are shared by many Vermonters who are calling my office – the overwhelming majority in opposition to our involvement in the Syrian civil war.”

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 54 percent of Democrats oppose missile strikes against Syria while only 42 percent support them. The survey showed that 66 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans are also opposed.  

One undecided Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, said he is concerned about Obama’s end-game strategy and the possibility that U.S. strikes could draw Russia into the conflict.

“What’s really the long-term plan? What’s after this, what happens next? Does it escalate? If it escalates, what are our steps?” he said. “Where’s Russia in all this?”

Begich said he is also concerned about the cost of the mission and how Congress would pay for it at a time it’s facing budget fights that could lead to a government shutdown.

Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a prominent centrist Democrat, came out against the resolution in a statement Thursday afternoon.

 “Given the case that has been presented to me, I believe that a military strike against Syria at this time is the wrong course of action,” he said. “In good conscience, I cannot support the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s resolution and will be working with my colleagues and the administration to develop other options.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has also tried to build momentum for the resolution. She plans to distribute to colleagues a DVD produced by the CIA showing the fallout of last month’s chemical attack outside Damascus.

Twelve Senate Republicans and two Democrats are leaning against voting for the Syria resolution next week, according to the Whip List compiled by The Hill. Thirteen Senate Democrats and nine Republicans say are inclined to vote for the measure.

The use-of-force resolution faces an even tougher path in the House.

The Hill’s Whip List shows 97 House members, including 69 Republicans and 28 Democrats, against it. Only 21 House Democrats and 9 Republicans have said they are leaning toward voting yes.