WASHINGTON – Calling the use of chemical weapons “a barbarous act,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday he will support President Obama’s request to authorize force against the Syrian government and also said he was confident his fellow lawmakers would do the same.
The statement of support from the Ohio Republican was quickly followed by another from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), notching two critical votes for the White House in what still appears to be an uphill campaign to win majorities on Capitol Hill.
Boehner, after a meeting with the president and other senior officials at the White House Tuesday morning, said that only the United States could prevent Syrian President Bashar Assad from using chemical weapons, and that a military strike was necessary also as a signal to other potentially hostile regimes.
“We have enemies around the world that need to understand that we’re not going to tolerate this type of behavior. We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it’s necessary,” he told reporters outside the West Wing.
In a written statement, Cantor called Assad’s Syria “the epitome of a rogue state” that “has long posed a direct threat to American interests and to our partners.”
He also said that a draft resolution sent to Congress by the administration “will likely change.” He said that it is up to Obama to make the case to lawmakers and to the American people that this is the right course of action -- an indication that Republican leaders will not make a concerted lobbying effort on their own to convince their members.
“Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the speaker expects the White House to provide answers to members’ questions and take the lead on any whipping effort,” Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman, said. “All votes authorizing the use of military force are conscience votes for members, and passage will require direct, continuous engagement from the White House.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who has expressed support for military action, acknowledged that many of her own constituents are probably opposed to military action, telling reporters after the White House meeting that “the American people need to hear more about the intelligence” suggesting that Assad’s military used chemical weapons in an attack Aug. 21 outside Damascus.
Pelosi also sought to counter the argument that Obama committed the nation to this course of action when he said that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a “red line.”
“President Obama did not draw the red line. Humanity drew it,” she said.
Pelosi said she would lead a discussion among House Democrats to help build support ahead of a vote next week. She said they would have to decide: “Do they want to ignore the fact that this humanitarian disaster took place or not.” She said they will have to consider what message would be sent to the international community if a vote were to fail.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a statement that many questions have still not been answered and called on the president “to make the case not only to Congress, but to the American people, in a national address.”
The president, though, is scheduled to leave Tuesday night for Sweden and later will travel to Russia for the G-20 meeting on the world’s economy.
In addition to the public and closed hearings scheduled in key congressional committees this week, the administration will continue to brief the full membership. Vice President Joe Biden, who is key to any lobbying effort on Capitol Hill, has canceled a scheduled trip to Florida to discuss education policy.
[For the Record, 12:25 p.m. PDT: An earlier version of this online article said that Sen. John Cornyn did not attend Tuesday’s White House meeting. Cornyn was present.]