Congressional vote could go either way on Syria

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The odds of the Obama administration winning congressional support for military action against Syria were unclear Sunday as lawmakers got a classified briefing on the administration’s case against the Syrian government.

Historically, both parties tend to treat votes like these as a matter of conscience, and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has no plans to twist members’ arms on a vote, according to a senior House GOP member who didn’t want to speak on the record about internal talks. Democratic supporters are hoping Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi decides to whip Democratic members to push for a yes vote.

On a conference call with congressional leaders and Obama officials last week, Pelosi – who became speaker in 2006 in large part because of opposition to the Bush administration over the war in Iraq – argued in favor of acting in a limited capacity in Syria, according to sources on the call. But sources from both parties say votes in both chambers – especially in the House – could go either way.

If taken today, it likely would not pass, which is why the president is not calling Congress back early from its recess. The White House needs time to present its case and lobby lawmakers, and top administration officials were set to meet with members of Congress starting Sunday afternoon.

President Barack Obama announced Saturday that he wants the United States to take limited action against Syria’s government, which Washington says has used chemical weapons on its own civilians. But Obama said he will first seek authorization from Congress when the House and Senate return to session on September 9.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Xavier Becerra told reporters Sunday on Capitol Hill that he doesn’t think “matters of military action lend themselves to whipping.”

“These are singular votes,” he said.

Becerra added he’s still reviewing evidence and has not decided but said if the mission went beyond targeted strikes he would oppose it.

Sen. John McCain, who’s meeting with Obama Monday, said he wants to know whether there’s a plan to take out Assad’s regime before he commits to a vote. If the vote were held today, however, he said he believes it can pass.

“I do believe that it can,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill before going into the classified meeting. “I think it depends to some degree whether the president of the United States not only makes the case to Congress but I would recommend that he speak from the Oval Office and tell the American people why this mission is necessary.”

By Dana Bash

CNN Senior Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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