The six key players in Congress’ Syria debate

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from USAToday,

A week ago, it seemed the question of whether to take military action against Syria rested solely on the shoulders of President Obama.

But he has turned to Congress to authorize military airstrikes against Syria for using chemical weapons, setting up the most consequential foreign policy vote since the 2002 authorization of the Iraq War.

Congress is still on recess, but the arm-twisting has begun and the Syria resolution will be the first order of business in both the House and Senate when they return Sept. 9.

The debate will pit Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi against both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of foreign military intervention. The White House will need support from Republican leaders such as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., but it is not clear how much influence they will have over their own party.

Here is a guide to the key players to watch, their strategies and the challenges they face:

Nancy Pelosi: Get out the vote

Pelosi is a credible voice among anti-war liberals, and Obama’s top House ally. Her support is a signal that a significant faction of House Democrats will likely be on board. Pelosi is rarely out of step with her rank-and-file.

Traditionally, leadership does not twist arms for votes that are viewed as a matter of conscience, but this vote is also a referendum on their president’s foreign policy agenda so there will be pressure to help Obama avoid an embarrassing defeat. On Monday the White House held a briefing specifically for the House Democratic caucus.

Still, there will be intra-party pressure from the left to oppose the resolution. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has vocally opposed military intervention, saying that intelligence has failed to prove that Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons. Grayson has launched a website and petition drive to generate opposition to any military intervention in Syria.

John Boehner: Corralling the caucus

John McCain and Lindsey Graham: Key votes

Rand Paul: The hard ‘No’

President Obama: Flood the zone

The White House strategy, as one senior administration official put it, is to “flood the zone.”

The president and his advisers are trying to hammer home in their conversations with skeptics on Capitol HIll that taking action is about more than just retribution for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, according to the administration official, who was not authorized to comment on the deliberations.

“The failure to take action against Assad unravels the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use,” according to the official. “And it risks emboldening Assad and his key allies — Hezbollah and Iran — who will see that there are no consequences for such a flagrant violation of an international norm.”

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