Will Liberals Follow Pelosi on Syria?

Posted September 4, 2013 at 3:32pm

Nancy Pelosi’s usual allies in the liberal wing of the House Democratic Caucus have a message for the California lawmaker: they respect her, but they may not be able to follow her when it comes to Syria.

The House minority leader has nonetheless been making the case — with increasing urgency and fervor — that Democrats should vote next week for a resolution to authorize U.S. military strikes against the Syrian government, although falling short of “whip” effort given that issues of war and peace are ultimately conscience votes for lawmakers.

She appeared at the microphones outside the White House on Tuesday after a briefing with President Barack Obama to voice her unequivocal support. Since then, she has sent two letters to colleagues to solicit feedback on what they need in order to vote “yes.”

“This week is an important one in our discussion of what House Members are willing to support,” Pelosi wrote in a Wednesday afternoon letter.

She has a history of successfully shoring up support for key legislation that progressives find unsavory; perhaps the most famous recent example came in 2011, when then-Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., referred to the debt ceiling deal as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”

A growing number of Congressional Progressive Caucus members are starting to articulate clear positions around the Syria resolution, but the majority of members are still declining to draw lines in the sand.

Advocates of military intervention see the CPC, and other anti-war Democrats, as key to the resolution’s chances for passage. They also see them as ripe for persuasion: On Wednesday afternoon, White House officials held a targeted conference call to brief CPC members and answer questions.

But lawmakers are making it clear that no matter what, they’ll be making up their own minds, and there isn’t much anyone can do to change that — not even Pelosi.

“She’s respected, her opinion is respected and her tenure is respected and to some extent she will have influence,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, who has said he will vote “no” on the resolution while the other co-chairman, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, has indicated he will vote “yes.”

“We all have the deepest respect for Leader Pelosi but each one of us will make a decision based on our own point of view there, I’m sure,” said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., who was elected to Congress in the anti-Iraq War wave of 2006. Shea-Porter came out against authorizing force in Syria on Tuesday night. “We listen, it’s our job to listen and to hear all sides.”

One of the major difficulties for leadership in negotiating the votes for a resolution like this is that nobody wants to be crass about the political calculations and implications. Pelosi is no exception.

“She apparently has strong views on this issue and I’m sure she will make those views known,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who says at this point she remains “skeptical” about military intervention. “On the other hand, she has always made it clear that she is not going to press people to do one thing or another. She has never done that when it’s an issue of war and peace, that’s not what she does.”

But Democrats have to weigh whether it would be a devastating blow to the president should the majority of his own party fail to support him.

It surely must weigh at least in part on Pelosi, a party loyalist who supports Obama and wants to help him succeed on Capitol Hill.

But Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a Pelosi ally, disagrees.

“She’s making her case for her view. It’s not for the administration,” she said. “If you don’t know Nancy Pelosi by now, Nancy Pelosi has not been afraid to speak out. She has made her determination. She has thought it through, she has listened to the intelligence, and I haven’t spoken to the leader at all but she has been in classified briefings and she is listening. She came to her own conclusions.”

DeLauro, for her part, remains undecided.