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Congress May Be Headed for a Split Verdict on Syria

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images
Obama has refused to say what he would do if Congress split or refused to authorize the use of force against Syria.

Would a Senate endorsement alone give President Barack Obama sufficient political backing to launch a missile strike on Syria?

With flimsy support in the House, the Senate may be the best chance Obama has to get the thumbs-up from Congress that he’s looking for — though by no means is a favorable result in the Senate a slam dunk.

The president himself refused to say what he would do if Congress split or refused to authorize the use of force against Syria.

At a Friday news conference from the G-20 summit in Russia, Obama said he did not want to “jump the gun and speculate, because right now, I’m working to get as much support as possible.”

However, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told NPR on Friday morning that the president would likely not act without Congress’ approval.

“The president, of course, has the authorization to act, but it’s neither his desire nor his intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him,” Blinken said. The adviser was not asked about a split verdict, however.

Still, Obama appears to be focusing most of his current lobbying efforts on the Senate. On Thursday, for example, he called five senators, and earlier in the week, he hosted pro-interventionist GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at the White House. Of course, the Senate is also expected to vote before the House, with a possible test vote coming as soon as Sept. 11.

But while getting the 60 votes needed to beat back a possible filibuster in the Senate seems doable, rank-and-file House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed deep skepticism about the need to retaliate for the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people. A majority of House members either have already come out against action in Syria or have indicated they are leaning against voting for a strike.

While many senators also remain skeptical, some of those who have expressed reservations appear to be looking for a reason to say “yes” to a possible strike. For example, Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., are circulating a resolution that would give the Syrian regime 45 days to give up its chemical weapons or face unspecified retaliation. Failure of the Syrian regime to sign on to a treaty banning chemical weapons would lead to “all elements of national power” being considered by the U.S. government.

Supporters of military intervention have also been aggressively lobbying their fellow senators. Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein is among those warning of the broad foreign policy consequences of not rallying behind the president.

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