WASHINGTON (AP) — Some of President Barack Obama's top allies say the president misread a few crucial political forces when he asked Congress to support his bid to strike Syria.
Chief among Obama's missteps, they say, was underestimating the nation's profound weariness with military entanglements in the Middle East, fed by residual anger over the Iraq war's origins, and overestimating lawmakers' willingness to make risky votes 14 months before the next congressional elections.
"I can't understand the White House these days," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., an early and enthusiastic endorser of a strike against Syria over last month's chemical weapons attack. Rather than unexpectedly asking for Congress' blessing on Aug. 31, Moran said, Obama might have quietly called House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to say, "'I'm thinking of sending this vote to the Congress. How do you think it might turn out?'"
"She would have said, 'You've got to be kidding,'" Moran said. "She knows where the votes stand."
In recent days, Obama put military decisions on hold and asked Congress to halt plans to vote on a strike authorization while diplomats explore Russia's proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. The pause has given the president's friends time to ponder why Congress, and especially the House, seemed to be moving against his push for military action against Syria's government.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said calls and emails from his Baltimore district were running about 99-1 against military intervention in Syria. Many House colleagues, he said, report feedback nearly as one-sided.
Cummings said he told Obama at a recent meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus that "once he asked for Congress to give its consent, he also asked for the public's consent." Americans aren't willing to grant it, Cummings said. And it's asking too much of re-election-seeking lawmakers to defy such overwhelming emotions back home, he said.