Boehner: ‘I am going to support the president’s call for action’


President Obama personally helped lead a briefing for congressional leaders on Syria this morning, and apparently persuaded Congress’ top Republican lawmaker. Speaking to reporters just outside the White House this morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said:

“The use of chemical weapons is a barbarous act. It’s pretty clear to me that the United Nations is unable to take action, NATO not likely to take action. The United States for our entire history has stood up for democracy and freedom for people around the world.

“The use of these weapons has to be responded to and only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not to be tolerated. […]

“I am going to support the president’s call for action. I believe my colleagues should support this call for action.”

Around the same time, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) issued a written statement saying he too intends to “vote to provide the President of the United States the option to use military force in Syria.”

Does this change the political calculus on Capitol Hill? Probably a little – but only a little.

We talked this morning about congressional Republicans’ reluctance to support the White House’s call, largely because the call is coming from a president they hold in contempt. As Byron York put it, “In the end, many will carefully consider all the evidence and then vote their instincts. And that will mean a vote against Barack Obama.”

And so long as it was simply a binary dynamic – voting for or against the president’s appeal to use force – this decision was arguably easier for GOP lawmakers. A defeat for the resolution would undermine Obama’s international credibility, but for congressional Republicans, that’s a plus, not a minus.

But with Boehner and Cantor endorsing the president’s position, GOP lawmakers will obviously have to consider whether to embarrass their own leaders while also embarrassing the president. They might very well do this anyway, but at a minimum, it should give rank-and-file Republicans pause. Indeed, if there’s a contingent within the caucus that’s inclined to follow the leadership’s call, and there’s a similarly sized element of House Democrats who’ll follow House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) lead, then the odds of the chamber approving a resolution are probably slightly better now than they were a few hours ago.

Of course, the underlying problem for Boehner is that he doesn’t really lead his caucus, at least not in any practical sense. Far-right lawmakers have routinely ignored the Speaker’s wishes – generally with impunity – making Boehner the weakest Speaker in recent memory. It’s not difficult to imagine several dozen GOP lawmakers shrugging their shoulders with indifference after hearing Boehner’s comments this morning.

In theory, when dealing with a matter of national security, if a president and the leaders of both House Republicans and House Democrats all agree on the same course of action, it’s tempting to think a resolution codifying that course would pass with relative ease. But with Syria, that’s hardly a given.

John Boehner, Foreign Policy and Syria

Boehner: 'I am going to support the president's call for action'