CAPITOL HILL — As members of Congress return to Washington from their summer recess, President Barack Obama is lobbying skeptical lawmakers for the authority to use military force against Syria as a response to chemical attacks. With large numbers of both Republicans and Democratics saying they don't want the U.S. to get involved in another war, the wording of an authorization could be critical in efforts to win the support the president needs.
President Obama is facing a hard sell and experts say if the vote on Syria were held today it would fail in the House of Representatives.
Obama has said it's his job to make his case to the American people. He conceded, though, during a news conference Friday, his efforts could fail.
"And it's conceivable that at the end of the day I don't persuade a majority of the American people that it's the right thing to do. And then each member of Congress is going to have to decide, ‘if I think it is the right thing to do for America’s national security, the world’s national security, then how do I vote.”
Lawmakers, even those who support military action, say their offices are being flooded with anti-war telephone calls.
Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein said, “There's no question what's coming in is overwhelmingly negative”.
At a town hall meeting in Arizona, Senator John McCain, a vocal supporter of military action, faced an angry crowd.
“I don’t say no. I say hell no,” said one Arizona voter.
Experts say the coming days will be critical. Congressional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution said, “Majority support is not yet in sight in the House. In fact, many people are betting against a majority ever materializing. There is going to be a lot of work, a lot of negotiations between the parties.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a draft resolution with the goal of degrading Syria's military capacity so a negotiated settlement of the war becomes more likely.
On the House side, two Democrats have drafted a narrower resolution that would limit the goal to deterring repeat uses of chemical weapons in Syria.
Congressman Gerry Connolly said his resolution “... actually codifies what the president has said he wishes to accomplish and codifies no boots on the ground, trying to make sure that we stay focused on the issue.”
Mann of Brookings said a final resolution will bar boots on the ground. “But how you define the objectives is going to have a bearing on how different factions in the Senate decide whether to support.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid formally introduced a resolution Friday on the Senate floor, paving the way for possible votes next week.
The president addresses the nation Tuesday night.