By Alexander Bolton - 09/07/13 10:00 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is bracing for double-digit defections in the Democratic caucus on the resolution authorizing military strikes on Syria, which will get a vote this coming week.
The Syria resolution presents Reid with one of the biggest tests of his leadership this Congress and the outcome has significant effects for President Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agendas.
“The president’s team has really given him a tough one this time but, as always, when the president asks him to do something, Sen. Reid quickly tries to get it done,” said Jim Manley, a former senior advisor to Reid.
With already four Democratic senators saying they will likely oppose the measure, the pressure is building on Reid to reach out across the aisle.
“If this vote were to fail, it will have huge consequences not only for the president’s domestic policy but also his foreign policy and for the people of Syria. This is about as high stakes as you can get,” Manley added. “How’s Iran and North Korea going to react to a defeat? How are House Republicans going to deal with the debt limit?”
Reid filed the use-of-force resolution on the Senate floor Friday, setting up a Wednesday vote to end debate and move to final passage. The critical cloture vote will happen on the 12-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon and the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attack.
Senators are scheduled to receive a classified briefing on Syria at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Capitol Visitor Center, according to a Democratic aide.
Another Democratic aide said the vote could happen sooner if Republicans waive certain procedural requirements.
Obama has given Reid tough jobs before, such as the controversial 2009 fiscal stimulus package, healthcare reform and Wall Street reform.
Reid conquered those assignments by keeping his caucus unified. This time he knows he’s not going to be able to keep all Democrats together.
“The goal is not to keep the caucus together, it’s to pass this resolution,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “I think we’ll lose a fair number of Democrats. We’ll probably lose double-digits Democrats.”
Liberal grassroots activists are ratcheting up the pressure on Democratic senators.
“I would hope and expect to see opposition build among Senate Democrats and House Democrats in the next few days,” said Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action.
Galland said members of MoveOn.org would hold Democratic lawmakers accountable for their vote in future elections.
“It is a consequential vote for the future and our members will look back at this vote when trying to figure out whom to vote for in future elections,” she said.
She said MoveOn.org polled its entire membership before taking a position against the resolution.
Reid remains confident he will be able to pass the controversial measure by relying on Republican votes to overcome the 60-vote threshold required.
He expects Tea-Party conservatives to join liberals such as Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in opposing it. But he’s banking on a larger coalition of mainstream Republicans and Democrats to carry it through to final passage.
“You’ll lose a lot of people on both ends,” said a senior Democratic aide.
As of Friday afternoon, 16 Senate Democrats and eight Republicans have signaled they plan to vote for the resolution.
The difficulty of Reid’s task was apparent when his top deputies Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) declined to immediately support use of force against Syria.
Durbin took a position Wednesday when he voted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a revised use-of-force resolution that would limit a military engagement to 90 days and bar the deployment of U.S. ground forces in Syria.
Schumer bolstered Reid when he announced his backing late Friday.
“It prohibits any boots on the ground and puts strict time limits on American involvement in Syria while still allowing an appropriate response to the use of weapons of mass destruction, and I will support it,” Schumer said in a statement.
Robert Creamer, a Democratic activist leader who supports military action against Syria, predicted Reid would succeed, despite the broad unpopularity of the resolution.
A recent survey of liberal voters affiliated with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee found that 73 percent of 57,000 respondents opposed military action.
Creamer said the political dynamics will change after Obama addresses the nation Tuesday.
“The political ground on this issue will improve next week,” he said. “I’m guessing the Senate will pass the Senate proposal by 60-plus votes.”