Syria opposition united disparate factions in Congress

  • Article by: David A. Fahrenthold and Paul Kane
  • Washington Post
  • September 7, 2013 - 7:34 PM


Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., waited for the laughter to die down. At a town-hall meeting with Tea Party supporters, somebody had asked him about a rumor: Was it true that he — a conservative veterinarian in his first term who loudly opposes President Obama’s agenda and any compromise with the White House — was working with Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., Congress’s leading liberal loudmouth?

The laughter stopped. “I wish I could tell you it wasn’t true,” he recounted saying. “But it is true.” He recalled hearing gasps.

Yoho and Grayson are among a group of unlikely allies in Congress: liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans, united by their opposition to a military strike against Syria. The Democrats in the group have lost faith in war. The Republicans have lost faith [or never had it] in Obama.

In this case — as Obama seeks approval for a limited kind of warmaking — their doubts have aligned. The result is an ad hoc coalition of Congress’s unwilling.

Brought together by NSA amendment

This odd bipartisan bloc most recently emerged in July, in support of an amendment to rein in National Security Agency spying. They lost that vote. But this one may be different. For now, this alliance of the far left and far right seems to be stronger than the coalition that actually supports a strike against Syria. Even though — in the House at least — their opposition includes the leaders of both parties.

“What you’re hitting on is this general consensus — across the political spectrum — that we just need to mind our own business. And that’s not a liberal or conservative concept. It’s just a universal law of life,” said Grayson, who has taken it upon himself to organize the effort to reject a military strike. “We’re gonna win. “Pretty sure.”

What’s made the Yoho-Grayson coalition so much stronger is their ability to win converts among the normally establishment figures from each side of the aisle. Their strength is most obvious in the House (in the Senate, supporters are opponents of a strike are roughly equal, with the majority of the Senate still undecided). In the House, more than 100 members are believed to be solidly against a strike on Syria. And, at last count, more than 100 others seemed to be leaning toward “no.” At last count, 185 were undecided.

Are power of parties ebbing?

But it’s a whole lot more than the other side has mustered.

The members in favor of a military strike include the top two Republicans — House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Va., — as well as the top two Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Md. But the list is not much longer: Just 21 other members are with them, said the Post’s unofficial tally.

So this is a remarkable moment in U.S. politics: a demonstration that the power of parties may be ebbing after a period of strong partisan discipline. A Republican speaker and a Democratic president are now united behind a common legislative goal. And the coalition that’s with them is still smaller than the Congressional Cement Caucus.

So who’s against them? The group of legislators who appear opposed to a military strike on Syria includes a wide swath of Congress, including centrists and party loyalists.

Many lawmakers joined this group on their own, based on their own beliefs about Syria — or on feedback from voters. But there have also been efforts to organize the opposition and recruit other “no” votes from those still undecided.

And in the current Congress — where party power has broken down, and members cannot plan beyond the next primary — new members are desperate to show their independence. So among the hard “no” votes in the House against a strike on Syria, many are in their first or second term.

“It’s not our civil war. It’s theirs,” said Yoho. “To attack that country — a sovereign country that did not attack us — is an act of aggression. It’s an act of war.”

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