Sep. 5, 2013 - by JOHN T. BENNETT - Defense News
WASHINGTON — US lawmakers whose votes could prove important continue holding their cards close, saying Thursday they remain undecided about authorizing military strikes.
Analysts and pundits are predicting close votes in the House and Senate next week when both chambers vote on giving President Barack Obama the authority to launch limited military strikes to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons.
Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official now with the Center for American Progress, told Defense News on Thursday he expects the Democratic-controlled Senate to easily pass a use-of-force resolution. But the GOP-controlled House, he said, will be a tougher fight for Democratic leaders and the White House.
Korb says he “would be dumbfounded” if House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., fails to hold enough of her 200-member caucus to join with a likely minority of Republicans to push a force resolution across the finish line.
“I think Pelosi will figure out how many votes she needs,” Pelosi said. “In the final analysis, I can’t see House Democrats throwing Obama under the bus.”
But other analysts, like Loren Thompson, Lexington Institute COO and a former Georgetown University security studies professor, believe the resolution is doomed.
“Since the administration can't prove that any U.S. military action in Syria can be kept limited or positively impact the situation on the ground, it is likely that legislative sentiment for attacking Assad's forces has already peaked,” said Thompson.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Wednesday that he is so far unable to predict whether lawmakers will approve a new version of the White House’s proposed a use-of-force resolution that will be altered by both chambers.
The vote-counting and -predicting in Washington already is in high gear. And many eyes are focused on veteran lawmakers who typically skew toward the political center on national security matters.
Two such members are Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. Collins is Intelligence Committee member and a was longtime Armed Services Committee member until this year. Mikulski is the Appropriations Committee chairwoman and is viewed as pro-military, with her state hosting military and defense-industry facilities.
She said she still has reservations "about the wisdom" of Obama’s desired strikes.
Collins said she is worried about Assad again using chemical weapons, this time after US Tomahawk missile strike. “That’s the definition of entanglement,” she said.
Mikulski told reporters before a classified briefing that she still has “more questions than I have answers.”
“I hope to get them over the course of today and tomorrow,” Mikulski said, referring to classified briefings slated for Thursday and Friday for lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
She said she is not yet prepared to vote on the use-of-force measure.
The Senate could vote on Syria as soon as Sept. 11. It is unclear when the House might vote.