May 20, 2018
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Angus King could be key swing vote in Syria debate

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Angus King
By Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Congress and the country have embarked on what is expected to be an extended debate about the merits of U.S. military action in Syria. As a result, the Obama administration is deploying top national security officials to Capitol Hill this week to testify in public and brief lawmakers in private about a potential intervention. But the White House is also relying on several influential members of the House and the Senate to rally support for action in Syria. Here are 12 key individuals or groups to watch as the debate unfolds:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.: The White House will be leaning on Reid to help rally support for a use-of-force resolution. Several Democrats have said they oppose or are skeptical of the use of military force, making a filibuster possible. Reid voted to authorize military action in Iraq but later emerged as a leading critic of the war.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: Will he work to deliver GOP votes for an attack or allow his Republican colleagues to vote their consciences? McConnell said Tuesday that “Congress and our constituents would all benefit from knowing more about what it is [President Obama] thinks needs to be done — and can be accomplished — in Syria and the region.” Facing a reelection campaign in 2014, McConnell is struggling to hold together the Senate GOP conference and has met resistance from tea-party-backed senators unwilling to be seen as supportive of any administration policy.

House Republican leadership: Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) issued a joint statement this weekend calling on Obama to provide Congress with more information. After meeting with the president on Tuesday, Boehner and Cantor said they would vote for a strike, while McCarthy is still undecided. The trio has been hard-pressed to hold together the House GOP conference on key votes this year and has been forced to quickly withdraw some legislation that faced defeat. They are not expected to formally “whip” votes for a Syria resolution, and aides say Democrats will need to rally support on their side of the aisle to secure passage for the president.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: She is strongly behind military action, putting her at odds with her liberal colleagues. Pelosi is a known vote-getter who can wield her influence on wavering colleagues when needed. Like Reid, she supported military action in Iraq but later became a vocal critic.

Committee leaders: The White House is paying special attention to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate foreign relations, armed services and intelligence panels, hoping that united support from them will bring along undecided lawmakers. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., narrowly succeeded in defeating a resolution to defund some National Security Agency programs. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce, R-Calif., could help lobby members of their panels, along with the 11 other California Republicans in the House. Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, has been in close touch with administration officials and might be able to rally colleagues from New York and other states who have signaled opposition to a resolution.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: The pair wield great influence over their GOP colleagues on foreign policy debates, partly because of their outsize presence in the media. They scored a White House meeting Monday with the president and emerged to announce their support for a military resolution. McCain, though, is a reluctant backer: “I don’t think the president should have done this,” he told “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday. “Once he announced that we were going to have strikes, I think he should have acted, as other presidents have, both Republican or Democrat.” Graham is generally supportive but believes that Obama needs to do more to convince skeptical lawmakers, aides said.

Republicans thinking about 2016: At least four GOP lawmakers are weighing bids for the White House — or could end up on the short list of vice-presidential contenders. In the Senate, keep an eye on Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), all of whom have expressed skepticism about a military strike. Ditto Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), who announced Tuesday that he’s still unconvinced about the president’s case.

Democrats thinking about 2016: Depending on what Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden decide to do, there are a handful of Democratic lawmakers waiting in the wings to run for president. In the Senate, both Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) have hinted at broader national ambitions.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.: One of the most vocal and renegade House Republicans, Amash has been actively voicing his opposition to military action on Twitter. On Sunday, he showed up for a classified Capitol Hill briefing on Syria wearing a Darth Vader T-shirt. He joined with liberal Democrats recently to sponsor a resolution to defund several National Security Agency eavesdropping programs; the measure only narrowly lost in the House.

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.: He persuaded more than 140 colleagues to sign a letter asking Obama to seek formal authorization for military action and has since said he remains opposed to a strike. Rigell represents a Virginia district that is home to hundreds of thousands of active and retired military service members, and is particularly sensitive to how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained military families.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.: Perhaps the leading anti-war liberal in Congress, she persuaded more than 60 colleagues to sign a similar letter to Obama and remains opposed to military action. She was the only member of Congress to vote no on the use of force against terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She is especially influential among her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, a bloc of more than 40 votes that the White House will need to ensure passage of a resolution in the closely divided House.

Undecided Senate Democrats: Several senators who caucus with the Democrats say they are skeptical of military action and will need to be persuaded to support a resolution, especially if Reid needs a supermajority of 60 senators to fend off a filibuster. This group includes Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Angus King, I-Maine, who could be a key swing vote.

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