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Military Strike In Syria Faces Uphill Battle In The House


And as we said, it's not clear where Congress will fall on the Syria question. In the Senate, the resolution to authorize the use of force needs 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster and in the House, passage looks even tougher. Here's NPR's Ailsa Chang.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: President Obama's intense campaign to flood the zone on Capitol Hill to sway lawmakers is still barreling ahead at top speed and the first big test of how persuasive he's been is coming up next week when a full Senate vote is expected. Senators squarely in the president's camp are now doing their best to help the campaign along, like Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, the chair of the intelligence committee.

She says she's asked the CIA to prepare a DVD showing victims in Syria convulsing from the chemical attacks.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: And we received that this morning and it's horrendous. So we are having that DVD multiplied and we're going to get it out to every member of the Senate and possibly members of the House, so that they can, at their leisure, go through it.

CHANG: It's become exceedingly clear that Senate leaders are going to have to lean heavily on Democrats to fend off a possible filibuster, but their party is deeply split. Some Senate Democrats, like Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, say they're worried the U.S. is foolishly going at this alone and needs to confirm it can count on its partners for help.

SENATOR: If there is a military strike, where is the Arab League and what will they do? Where are our allies and what will they do? I know that 37 nations have said that they would support us, but what does support mean? Is this like a schoolyard bully where they say you go hit him, but we'll hold your coat and go get lemonade?

CHANG: And there's widespread suspicion among undecided lawmakers that U.S. entanglement in Syria will last much longer than the 90 days the current resolution authorizes. Even senators who back the use of force now are openly wondering about what happens later, like Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: The question that's been raised is what happens on the 91st day. What happens if Mr. Assad decides at that point that he is going to use chemical weapons again? Will we return to Congress and start the debate again or should something else occur?

CHANG: Even if the Senate does pass the resolution now, the next battlefield is the House. Top House leaders from both parties have said the vote on Syria is a vote of conscience, not a time to exert party discipline and help the president whip up votes. It's clear that members from both parties in the House are having real qualms about giving authorization. Even the House Democrats who say there's always a presumption to stand with the president are having a hard time, like Hakeem Jeffries, who was heading into a classified briefing today. He says he's been having a lot of conversations with constituents in New York about how he should vote.

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES: And in the overwhelming majority of cases, individuals have made clear that they are very concerned about the possibility of going to war.

CHANG: Other House Democrats say they're reluctant to vote for military intervention because no good option exists in Syria. Here's Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire.

REPRESENTATIVE CAROL SHEA-PORTER: I'm concerned that if we strike Assad too hard that we could actually topple him and then we have what I call an alphabet soup of bad actors there. And so with so many extremists, you'd have to worry about that. If we go too lightly, we might not look serious enough and Assad might start bragging that he was able to survive this.

CHANG: Many House Republicans echo that thought. There's no guarantee the strategy will succeed. Here's Tom Marino of Pennsylvania speaking during the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday.

REPRESENTATIVE TOM MARINO: This will not stop the butchering and the killing that takes place over there, so what is the purpose? What is the end game here? Where is the imminent danger to the United States?

CHANG: Top House Republican leaders say they're convinced there's a reason to intervene in Syria, but so far, they have no concrete plan on how to proceed with a vote. They may simply wait to see what passes in the Senate next week and then take up that resolution in the House the week after that. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.