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Will Liberals Follow Pelosi on Syria?

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Nancy Pelosi’s usual allies in the liberal wing of the House Democratic Caucus have a message for the California lawmaker: they respect her, but they may not be able to follow her when it comes to Syria.

The House minority leader has nonetheless been making the case — with increasing urgency and fervor — that Democrats should vote next week for a resolution to authorize U.S. military strikes against the Syrian government, although falling short of “whip” effort given that issues of war and peace are ultimately conscience votes for lawmakers.

She appeared at the microphones outside the White House on Tuesday after a briefing with President Barack Obama to voice her unequivocal support. Since then, she has sent two letters to colleagues to solicit feedback on what they need in order to vote “yes.”

“This week is an important one in our discussion of what House Members are willing to support,” Pelosi wrote in a Wednesday afternoon letter.

She has a history of successfully shoring up support for key legislation that progressives find unsavory; perhaps the most famous recent example came in 2011, when then-Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., referred to the debt ceiling deal as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”

A growing number of Congressional Progressive Caucus members are starting to articulate clear positions around the Syria resolution, but the majority of members are still declining to draw lines in the sand.

Advocates of military intervention see the CPC, and other anti-war Democrats, as key to the resolution’s chances for passage. They also see them as ripe for persuasion: On Wednesday afternoon, White House officials held a targeted conference call to brief CPC members and answer questions.

But lawmakers are making it clear that no matter what, they’ll be making up their own minds, and there isn’t much anyone can do to change that — not even Pelosi.

“She’s respected, her opinion is respected and her tenure is respected and to some extent she will have influence,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, who has said he will vote “no” on the resolution while the other co-chairman, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, has indicated he will vote “yes.”

“We all have the deepest respect for Leader Pelosi but each one of us will make a decision based on our own point of view there, I’m sure,” said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., who was elected to Congress in the anti-Iraq War wave of 2006. Shea-Porter came out against authorizing force in Syria on Tuesday night. “We listen, it’s our job to listen and to hear all sides.”

One of the major difficulties for leadership in negotiating the votes for a resolution like this is that nobody wants to be crass about the political calculations and implications. Pelosi is no exception.

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