The only way it seems President Obama can win a Congressional vote for a military strike on Syria is to make inroads with those who are among his most vociferous political enemies: Republicans elected to the House in 2010 and 2012.
Of the 87 Republicans elected to the class of 2010 — the largest GOP House class since 1938 — 71 remain in office. Along with 37 members in the class of 2012, that means that of the 233 current House Republicans, 108 have been elected in the last three years.
Underscoring the pivotal role Republican backbenchers could play in the eventual vote, Newsmax learned, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — a Virginia Republican and a supporter of airstrikes — held a conference call with GOP freshmen last Wednesday.
Sources told us that 25 of the 37 Republican members in the House GOP's class of 2012 participated.
With the most recent headcount conducted by the Washington Post showing 110 House members (24 Democrats and 86 Republicans) against military action in Syria and 115 (31 Democrats and 84 Republicans) leaning no, the White House will need at least some of the freshman and sophomore Republicans to reach the "magic 217" to pass a resolution backing action against Syria.
Judging from the reaction of freshman and sophomore Republicans who spoke to Newsmax, it will be a very hard sell.
Two-term Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee told Newsmax he is "leaning against" the resultion, following a series of town meetings with constituents throughout the state's 3rd Congressional District, which covers Chattanooga and a strip right up to the Virginia and Kentucky borders.
In town meetings and in visits to the supermarket, said Fleischmann, "I heard impassioned pleas to vote no — and it was an overwhelming no. People told me, 'Chuck, don't get us involved [in Syria] in any way.'"
Why do they feel so strongly? "There are several reasons," Fleishmann said. "People are war-weary and afraid, and they feel the administration has no military goals when it talks about Syria. I also heard some concern that if there is a strike, there is the potential for escalated conflict with other countries getting involved. This is what happened after World War I started."
Although leaning to a "no," Fleischmann emphasized that "I told my constituents I would continue to listen."
He said he planned to attend Monday's closed-door briefing on Syria by the administration, but that "The administration has not made a compelling case."
Among the other six members of Tennessee's House delegation — comprising seven Republicans and two Democrats — "there is not a single yes vote so far."
Fleischmann's report from his district was strongly echoed by fellow sophomore Republican Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio, who told Newsmax that in town meetings every day last week, "not one of my constituents supports our military getting involved in Syria."
Johnson, an Air Force veteran, said that the constituents he met "raised major, major questions about a Syrian strike, including about the administration's lack of any cohesive and comprehensive policy in that part of the world. We have the military capability but [constituents] question the ability of the administration to carry out a mission."
Freshman Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas — in a telephone interview from Qatar — said he was leaning strongly toward a no vote on Syria. The Washington Post headcount placed him in the "undecided" column.
"They criticized George W. Bush for not having 'what-if' alternatives when he went into Iraq," said Stockman, "President Obama doesn't have a 'what if anything' part of his policy."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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