US Congress in battle over Syria

By Richard Cowan and Caren Bohan, Reuters

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Congress, which votes largely along party lines on most issues, is displaying a different kind of split in the debate over Syria: Experienced lawmakers who support President Barack Obama’s plans for military action are lining up against more skeptical and rebellious newcomers mostly from the ideological fringes of both parties. A similar pattern emerged earlier this year on a proposal to limit surveillance by the National Security Agency, which failed in the U.S. House of Representatives but attracted significant support from both Tea Party members, libertarians and Democratic liberals. While the Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives came out in support of Obama on Tuesday, a House Republican aide, who asked not to be identified, said he expected most Tea Party-backed Republicans, around 50 lawmakers, to vote against any resolution in the chamber, which currently has 433 voting members. Their rationale, the aide said, is that the United States should not be involved in military action unless it is attacked. The Democratic leadership of Congress is mostly supportive of Obama as well, but by a rough count, about 30 or 35 Democrats in the House and four or five in the U.S. Senate have made statements which suggest that they are leaning against military strikes.

While some are veteran liberals, most are newer arrivals such as Illinois freshman Representative Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran. “Until I feel it’s imperative to our national security, I will not support pre-emptive intervention in Syria,” Duckworth said in a statement last week. “America shouldn’t bear the burden unilaterally, especially since none of our allies, including those in the region, have committed to action.” Many say it is too early to call the vote, but some early estimates of how members could line up point to a group of House liberal Democrats, including some Congressional Black Caucus members, leaning against the resolution and joining rank with their ideological adversaries — conservative and libertarian Republicans who have defied their leaders’ wishes eagerly on several major issues earlier this year. Obama has asked Congress to authorize limited action in response to what the administration says was a sarin gas attack by the Syrian government that killed more than 1,400 people, hundreds of them children, near Damascus on Aug. 21. Similar Pattern The NSA vote earlier this year on a proposal made jointly by conservative Representative Justin Amash and liberal Representative John Conyers, both from Michigan. The measure failed in the house by 12 votes, with 111 Democrats and 94 Republicans in support.

Particularly in the case of the Democrats, early statements do not mean they will ultimately cast a vote against military action in Syria.