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President Obama faces steep climb in House on Syria

House members await classified briefings on allegations of Syria chemical weapons use

CNN News Wire | 9/6/2013, 4:44 p.m.
Even if the Senate backs President Barack Obama’s call for military action against Syria, a wall of outright opposition or ...
President Barack Obama.

Even if the Senate backs President Barack Obama’s call for military action against Syria, a wall of outright opposition or skepticism from Democrats and Republicans in the House makes approval there very difficult.

House Speaker John Boehner, who backs Obama on the issue, welcomed news on Friday that the president would deliver a national address on Tuesday to try to sway public opinion, which now opposes such a step.

But Boehner’s spokesman signaled that the votes aren’t in the House for passing a resolution authorizing force against Syria and the GOP is placing the burden squarely on Obama’s shoulders.

“Only a president can convince the public that military action is required. We only hope this isn’t coming too late to make the difference,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement.

Still, senior House Republican aides find it difficult to see a path for passage.

Boehner’s top deputy, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, also supports the president and is talking to members and urging them to review classified materials that administration officials say bolsters their case for military action.

Cantor penned an editorial in his hometown Richmond paper explaining why he believes military action is needed.

“America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially by a terrorist state, and to prevent further instability in a region of vital interest to the United States,” he said.

But rank and file House GOP members have frequently ignored their leaders and the vote in favor of action is stalled in the single digits, including the support expressed by senior leadership, a CNN tally showed.

One senior GOP House aide said prospects for meaningful additional Republican support is “bad” and “momentum is with the ‘nay’ vote.”

Congress is ending its summer recess and members formally get back to work next week.

In a memo to House Republicans outlining the fall schedule, Cantor suggested the timetable for the vote, which Boehner initially planned for next week, could slip a week.

“Members should expect a robust debate and vote on an authorization of use of military force pertaining to Syria in the next two weeks” Cantor wrote.

But House GOP leaders are leaving open the possibility the House will not bring up the resolution if it fails in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid predicted on Friday that the necessary votes were in the Democratic-led chamber to pass a resolution calling for limited force.

The House plans to wait to see if something passes the Senate before making final decisions on the language or timing of any House vote, according to multiple Republican sources.

One undecided GOP member, Rep Richard Hudson, a North Carolina Republican, returned for a briefing on Friday. He told CNN that he came back to hear details about the military objectives directly from the administration instead of through the media.

Although his constituents are “very opposed” to military action, Hudson said he would base his vote on what he thought was best for the country and “let the politics sort itself out later.”