White House Framing Syria as Moral Question

September 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Susan Davis, Chief Congressional Reporter for USA Today, spoke with Hari Sreenivasan about how many days — or weeks — it might take for President Obama to get a final vote for a military strike on Syria.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We are joined by Susan Davis, a Congressional reporter for “USA Today.” Thanks for being with us. A lot of people might not realize this could take several weeks to play out – that the decision is not happening immediately.

SUSAN DAVIS: It’s entirely possible. It depends largely and in part on how well the President’s message is received on Tuesday, what sense we get whether members of Congress are coming together on this or falling apart on this. And we’ll know this better in the early part of next week.

The first test of this is going to come Wednesday when the Senate will have a test vote to see how much support is there. If the Senate runs out the clock it could come as late as the weekend on next weekend on next weekend. And the House has made clear they are not going to vote until the Senate proves they can pass something.  So if that’s the case it would likely spill at least into the week after next. So the first two weeks back seem to be clearly dominated by the Syria debate.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  We heard from Senator Rand Paul that he wants to do everything he can to stop it and he has a history of filibustering.

SUSAN DAVIS: It’s entirely possible, I think what we are going to see in the test vote on Wednesday when you need a 60-vote threshold to get past this. I think Harry Reid has been confident he can get there in part because some Democrats, Joe Manchin for instance,  is a Democrat who has said he’s going to going to oppose the resolution but would not necessarily be a vote to uphold a filibuster. People are going to vote against it in the end but don’t want to be obstructionist to the Senate having to take the tough vote.

HARI SREENIVASAN:   In a recent survey by the Associated Press it said half the Senate and a third of the House are against it.  What about all the constituents they are hearing from who are opposed to taking military action?

SUSAN DAVIS:  The one absolute we have heard from every member of Congress we talked across the political spectrum is that they are hearing from constituents about it and they are ten to one are against it. I think that is part of the odds stacked against the President as he tries to make his case to Congress.

I caution that a lot of the vote counts that they count what are lean no’s and lean yes’s. We are coming off of a five week break. A lot of members of Congress have not been in Washington. A lot have not been privy to the classified briefings. While it is an indicator and while there does not seem to be much momentum moving in the favor of the President there are still a lot of factors that weigh in on how the vote comes down.

I will say that is does  seems in the Republican-controlled House it is much harder slog, much more of an uphill battle. Not only to get Republicans on board but traditionally have Presidents had to rely on members of their own party to get this passed. Democrats control the Senate. They have about 200 votes in the House and it seems clear they have to build the majority of the support if the resolution has any chance of passing Congress.

HARI SREENIVASAN:   Considering there are both edges of the political spectrum stacked against the President here, what does he have to do to try to reach both Democrats and Republicans?

SUSAN DAVIS:   One thing that I think they are listening to on Tuesday night ,along with their constituents, is the argument that the President makes. Partly they have made it as a national security argument. But I think what we have seen through the weekend and what we’ve seen coming from the President is the humanitarian element to it.  I think it is a question of morality and of right and wrong; of whether we can allow people who perpetrated chemical attacks and killed hundreds of children to do so without repercussions.

That is a message that he is going to press. It’s a message that we have heard consistently from Nancy Pelosi the Democratic leader in the House.  And I think it comes going to come down to a question of what is right and what is wrong.

They seem to have backed away from the argument that this is not potentially an immediate threat to the national security of the United States which is a litmus test for a lot of members. But he  is going to have to make what is a clear emotional appeal to the sense of humanity not only in lawmakers but in their constituencies.

HARI SREENIVASAN:   Thanks so much.

SUSAN DAVIS: Thanks for having me.