Democrats splinter on Syria vote

Anne Wernikoff

Bucking their leaders, House liberals are pushing back against President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels fighting Islamic militants in the Middle East. 

Top Democratic leaders, siding with the White House, are lining up behind the Syria proposal, which GOP leaders are hoping Wednesday to attach to their continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown.

{mosads}Yet a number of Democrats emerged from a two-hour caucus meeting Tuesday morning expressing strong reservations with the notion of providing Obama with the new authority. A lobbying push by White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, who fielded questions during the meeting, seemed insufficient to persuade many skeptical liberals.

“There’s a lot of apprehension about moving forward as the president has planned. A lot of questions about the approach and a lot of angst about having been burned in the run-up to the Iraq war,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), told The Hill.

Johnson said he’ll vote in favor of the Syria lanuage, but a number of Democrats said they are voting no or leaning toward voting no.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told The Hill he will vote against the proposal; Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), former head of the CBC, said she has “many concerns” about the provision; Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said he’s leaning against the amendment over worries that there’s no plan for a vote to on a broader use-of-force measure; Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) singled out the “question of whether there are enough people there [in Syria] – indigenous people – to actually vet and use to fight and how effective that can be;” and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said it’s “ludicrous” that the Obama administration is basing its broader authority to go after the Islamic State militants on “something Congress did back in 2001” — a reference to the authorization Congress provided President George W. Bush following the attacks of 911.

“This is a different war that we’re about to get ourselves involved with. And it is a war,” McGovern said, pressing for a new use-of-force resolution. “Maybe I’ve got to look up what the new definition of [what] war is, but if bombing people isn’t war, I don’t know what the hell is.”

McGovern said he’s leaning toward opposing the Syria amendment and the underlying CR if the Syria amendment is attached.

“My inclination would be to vote ‘no’ for both,” McGovern said.

Liberal groups like and Democracy for America are pushing back hard against the amendment, urging lawmakers to vote against it this week.

The Democratic opposition could kill any chance of moving the bill forward, since there is also skepticism on the Republican aisle. Republicans emerged from their conference meeting on Tuesday unsure if a majority of their members would back the amendment written by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (Calif.).

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member close to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), predicted that Democrats would have to supply a significant number of votes to get the amendment through.

“It’s going to take a bipartisan coalition to pass it, and I think it’ll be bipartisan opposition,” Cole said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday acknowledged the divisions in his caucus, saying the concerns “are very real.” Still, Hoyer predicted the CR – with the Syria amendment – would ultimately pass with bipartisan support. 

“The Republicans do need our votes to pass it,” Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “The Democrats are going to have various different views, but my presumption is the CR will pass.”

Democratic leaders do not plan to whip the vote, according to a party aide.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) characterized Obama’s strategy to train the rebels as “highly risky,” but  predicted it will pass because “there are no better alternatives.”

“It does give authority to the president to pursue a course of action which is going to suck us back into the region,” Moran said. “But I don’t think there’s an alternative. We have too much at stake.”

Moran said it will require “a third to a half of the Democratic Caucus” to pass the measure in the face of GOP defections.

“I think you can probably get that,” Moran said. “Leadership is on board, but they may be ahead of some of their caucus. It’s a fairly contentious caucus right now.”

House Democrats plan to meet again Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m  for what could be a pivotal meeting.

This story was updated at 2:43 p.m. 

Tags Boehner Jim Moran John Boehner John Yarmuth
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