- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network.
As of Monday morning, the majority of U.S. legislators still have yet to announce their position on whether they’ll vote to authorize the use of military force against Syria. They’re running out of time to come to a decision, though; the resolution passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Wednesday and a vote by the full Senate is expected this week, with the House likely to follow soon after.
Some members of Congress may just be keeping their opinions to themselves. Congressional offices have reported a sharp uptick in phone calls from constituents, almost all of them critical of a strike against Syria. The incentive to voice opposition to the resolution is stronger at this point — both because it resonates with popular opinion and because it serves as a counterpoint to the Obama administration’s campaign for strikes, which has included congressional hearings featuring Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey; public speeches (U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power spoke last week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will speak today, and President Obama will deliver a speech tomorrow); private meetings; and appearances on the Sunday talk shows.
As both sides vie to sway the undecideds, here are the key congressional players to watch this week:
Reps. John Boehner (R-OH) and Eric Cantor (R-VA): The leaders of the Republican Party in the House both back the authorization for the use of military force. Neither seems committed to whipping the vote, arguing instead that the onus for making the case for intervention falls squarely on Obama, but others in the GOP may follow Boehner and Cantor’s lead. On the Senate side, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been conspicuously quiet about how he’ll vote this week, a move that has been attributed to the Senate minority leader not wanting to be a prominent supporter of an unpopular measure while facing a challenging primary campaign.
Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Gerald Connolly (D-VA): Van Hollen and Connolly have introduced an alternative resolution that tweaks the language of the proposed authorization of force to limit the potential scale of a U.S. intervention, stipulating that any intervention will not include ground forces and that airstrikes must end within 60 days.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): Pelosi has been a vocal proponent of Obama’s proposal and has pushed back against alternatives like the one floated by Van Hollen and Connolly. "Run for president, or join the military," she told TIME, "but I don’t know that we should be doing that in Congress, determining how many strikes it should take to take somebody out."
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan: Duckworth, an Iraq veteran and double amputee, is staunchly opposed to an intervention in Syria. In a statement issued by her office, she writes, "Until I feel it’s imperative to our national security, I will not support pre-emptive intervention in Syria. America shouldn’t bear the burden unilaterally, especially since none of our allies, including those in the region, have committed to action." Of the 16 veterans of the U.S. wars of the past decade in Congress, only two have voiced their support for an intervention, while 10, including Duckworth, are openly opposed; four others — Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Steve Stivers (R-OH), and Scott Perry (R-PA) — are undecided and could sway others with their inclinations.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY): A Marine veteran, Grimm initially supported Obama’s plan to strike Syria, but has since reversed his stance. "Now that the Assad regime has seen our playbook and has been given enough time to prepare and safeguard potential targets, I do not feel that we have enough to gain as a nation by moving forward with this attack on our own," he explained. He has also cited the vocal opposition of his constituency.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA): Markey, who filled John Kerry’s seat when Kerry became secretary of state, voted "present" when the Syria resolution passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, siding neither with the 10 senators who passed it or the seven who voted against it. Markey has since said that he had not been able to adequately assess the available intelligence, but that he will have come to a decision by the time of the full Senate vote.
The Congressional Black Caucus: The 39 voting representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus have been instructed to "limit public comment until [they] receive additional details," a spokesman for caucus Chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) told Foreign Policy last week. Fudge reportedly remains undecided, but according to the Hill‘s whip count, at least three members of the caucus are leaning in favor of a strike and five are poised to vote against it. National Security Advisor Susan Rice will meet privately with members of the caucus on Monday to make the administration’s case for intervening militarily in Syria.