By: Ginger Gibson
September 3, 2013 06:23 PM EST
Nancy Pelosi is facing one of her biggest tests as House minority leader in helping muscle a military strike on Syria through the House.
With a majority of House Republicans unlikely to support President Barack Obama’s use-of-force resolution, Pelosi’s Democrats will be key to passing an authorization of force resolution — likely to be narrower than the White House draft that was sent to Capitol Hill on Saturday night.
It’s a somewhat unusual position for House Democrats, who have been only marginally important since losing the House majority in 2010. But if they joined with a handful of Republicans — including House Speaker John Boehner — to approve a Syria strike, they would be following a pattern that worked earlier in the year when Democrats helped Republicans pass the fiscal cliff deal and aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Democratic aides are already pushing back at the idea that the future of the resolution lies on their shoulders, arguing that the House GOP majority should take responsibility. But that won’t change the narrative if there is a less than robust showing by the Democratic caucus.
“I think it’s a process and at the end of the day we’ll get there, but it’s going to take significant votes on both sides,” an aide to Pelosi said. “I don’t think it’s useful for anyone to get into conversation about what the ratio will be.”
The House Democratic leadership insists that it won’t whip the vote, or try to pressure members into siding with the president. An informal survey will be taken to determine how many votes for a military strike exist. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be working behind the scenes to persuade lawmakers.
The House Democratic leadership is making the case that the vote isn’t about war — emphasizing that this isn’t another Iraq — but about humanitarian aid, an appeal much more likely to win favor with anti-war Democrats.
“I don’t think that being a dove means that you’re against humanitarian intervention,” a Democratic aide said. “We’re not talking about war here. We’re talking about a timely, limited operation based on humanitarian grounds.”
The White House has scheduled conference calls with the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss Syria, a Democratic aide confirmed. There are calls with additional groups in the works.
In the early days of the debate this week, some of the rarely-quiet Democratic caucuses have been mum on Syria, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the Tri-Caucus, which is comprised of several minority groups.
Pelosi sent a letter to her members on Tuesday afternoon appealing for their support.
“It is in our national interest to respond to the Syrian government’s unspeakable use of chemical weapons. Indeed, it has been, and remains, a core pillar of our national security – under Democratic and Republican administrations – to prevent, limit, and halt the spread and use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons,” Pelosi wrote to her colleagues. “This is a matter of national, regional, and global security.”
Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are backing military action and indicated that a vote will come on some form of a resolution even if it requires ignoring the Hastert rule, which requires the speaker to have a majority of the majority before bringing up a bill for a vote on the floor.
But that will leave Democrats on the hook for supplying the majority of the votes.
If the eventual resolution goes down in flames and a large number of Democrats oppose it, they’ll be blamed for letting the legislation die, even if Republicans offer paltry support.
Right now, there is doubt that Pelosi and Obama have enough votes among House Democrats to pass a resolution.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who is undecided about how he’ll vote on the eventual resolution brought to the floor, said he is unsure if the Democratic caucus will get behind its leadership.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I think that will depend on the president to make the case to the American people.”
Schiff said Obama runs a risk of losing more Democrats in an effort to gain Republicans.
“I think the president is going to have to be careful not to appear to be broadening the mission to win over GOP support at the cost of sacrificing Democratic support,” Schiff said.
Schiff said leadership and the White House are making an effort to reach out to members and assuage their concerns. He received a call this weekend from White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
Democratic leaders are pushing back at any vote counts, insisting they are not yet themselves keeping a tally.
“I think it’s too early to say — anyone who predicts to you how many Democratic votes there will be and how many Republican votes there will be, you should take to Las Vegas. It’s just way too early,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Democrats’ campaign arm. “As the intel bakes in, as the members hear from their constituents, as the members talk to one another — and work with the administration, this will solidify. But we’re not there yet.”
A Pelosi aide also resisted the urge to count votes, saying it was too soon to know how many Democrats could support a resolution.
“Premature to talk about votes,” an aide said. “Members are being briefed and engaging in discussions with leadership.”
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Democratic Caucus and hasn’t endorsed the resolution, is also opposed to any type of whip process.
“I don’t think matters of military action lend themselves to whipping as a party,” Becerra said on Sunday. “These are singular votes.”
Pelosi hasn’t committed to supporting only the White House version of a resolution to authorize the strike. The House language remains in limbo and is contingent on what will likely be bicameral negotiations on how the vote is conducted, a Democratic aide said.
In one scenario, the Senate could vote first on a resolution that is likely to be drafted by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House would then presumably vote on the version passed by the Senate.
In another scenario, each chamber could move simultaneously on different resolutions and then iron out the differences when they’re done. In that case, it’s likely that House Republicans would draft their own version.
The only consensus so far appears to be that the House will draft a more narrow resolution offered by the White House.
In a letter to her colleagues, Pelosi addressed the text of the resolution, drawing no lines about what the resolution will ultimately say.
“The shape and content of the final resolution will depend on what Members can support,” she wrote.
Additionally, a handful of House Democrats are working on their own versions, all requiring more restrictions than the White House version.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is working on his own version of the resolution, but has not yet put together text, his office confirmed.
In a letter to colleagues arguing for revised text, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said regardless of whether fellow House members agree or disagree with an attack, the language should be changed.
“While the action the President has proposed is only in the air for a short duration, the text he has proposed is unlimited,” Sherman wrote. “In fact, it would authorize boots-on-the-ground for an undetermined duration.”
Sherman is proposing resolution text that would explicitly prohibit boots on the ground.
“Any further use of force beyond the 60 days should require an additional resolution, one that can be considered pursuant to the expedited procedures provided for in the War Powers Resolution,” he wrote.