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Tallying the House Vote on Syria
“It’s looking horrible” for the president’s move against Assad.

Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor

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Robert Costa

Representatives Justin Amash (Mich.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.)
Massie and Amash, two former Ron Paul supporters who are now young anti-war congressmen, are the libertarian counters to Cotton and Kinzinger. They’re also the liaisons in the House for Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul plans to meet with both of them this week as he looks to foment opposition to Boehner and Cantor. A breakfast hosted by Paul for his conservative House partners — Amash, Massie, Scott Garrett (N.J.), Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.), among others — is already in the works.

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The duo doesn’t represent the majority view of the GOP on foreign policy, but their fierce statements have permeated the House’s internal debate on Syria and fed into the widespread indecision in the conference. They had a similar impact this past July when Amash nearly passed his amendment to curb the National Security Agency’s surveillance capabilities. “The Paul wing isn’t dominating, but it’s certainly scoring points,” says an Amash ally.

Amash and Massie will be a headache for both the GOP leadership and the White House as the Syria resolution moves forward. Both men were involved in the attempted coup against Boehner earlier this year, and they have no reservations about calling out the speaker. They’re also popular with many of the Right’s anti-war activists — the same activists who are calling members in droves and causing even the hawks to grow leery. If they gain traction, the chances for passage will shrink.

Representative Mike Rogers (Mich.)
Rogers, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is being counted on by the GOP’s hawks to quietly whip his Republican committee members to fall in line behind a Syria resolution. The leadership also hopes that this powerful chairman can function as an emissary for Boehner and Cantor’s position, since the leadership, due to the nature of a “conscience vote,” can say only so much.

Members say Rogers has spoken during recent phone calls about the gravity of the chemical-weapons attacks and the need for stability in the region. He’s expected to host more meetings this week. But no one is ready to say he’ll be able to win a host of converts. An aide close to the committee say Rogers was more optimistic a week ago that Republicans would come his way, but now he has told his confidants that he’s not so sure. “Since this isn’t a Republican initiative or a black-and-white war, it’s been hard,” the aide says. “He thinks the president sent this to Congress then walked away without putting in the time to actually get it through.”

“The credibility gap there is huge,” Rogers said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “They need to regroup here, think about where they want to go, and make this about America’s national security. . . . It has been a confusing mess up to this point and that, I think, has been their biggest challenge.”

Representative Buck McKeon (Calif.)
McKeon, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, understands the need to take action in Syria, but he differs from Rogers in that he wants to cut a deal with the White House on sequestration before committing to “aye.” Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, McKeon reiterated that unless the White House puts on the table a restoration of funding for several sequester-related defense cuts, he’ll continue to sit on his hands.

“It’s a tragedy all the way around,” McKeon said. “It’s immoral to be using chemical weapons, obviously, against your own people. By the same token, I’m concerned about the morality of sending our own troops into harm’s way without providing for the things they need. . . . We’re asking them to do more with less.”

McKeon’s view isn’t widely shared by Republicans outside of defense-heavy districts, but it’s influential because he is a leading hawk and he is not helping Boehner and Cantor build Republican support for the resolution. That makes the job of King, Rogers, and the other interventionists more difficult. In the middle of a war debate, McKeon wants to have a debate about the military budget. If more Republicans take McKeon’s tack, it will further hamper the resolution’s chances.

Representatives Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Tom Price (Ga.)
Ryan and Price, chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the House Budget Committee — and good friends — are two of the most influential names in House conservative politics. The former was just on the national ticket as Mitt Romney’s running mate, and the latter is a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus. They also remain undecided and haven’t weighed in on Syria beyond terse statements. Other undecided conservatives will closely watch how they break on Syria. An endorsement of action from either could shift momentum toward the hawks.

But continued indecision or eventual opposition from Ryan, Price, and the dozens of other House Republicans like them could cripple the resolution before it even hits the House floor. House aides say more than 100 Republicans remain undecided, but it will be up to the White House, more than Boehner and company, to get enough of them for passage.

“I know Denis McDonough is working the Senate, but we need to see more on our side,” says the leadership source. “The White House isn’t doing enough. If they can’t get it together soon, this thing will go down.”

— Robert Costa is National Review’s Washington editor. 



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