Hill Leaders Back Obama on Syria

Support from top House Republicans leaves the president in stronger political position

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Larry Downing / Reuters

Speaker of the House John Boehner listens to U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House on Sept. 3, 2013

Top congressional leaders in both parties voiced support Tuesday for President Barack Obama’s plan for military intervention in Syria.

House Speaker John Boehner, who leads a Republican caucus hostile to Obama, said he will back the president’s call for a military response to Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons when the House reconvenes next week.

“The use of these weapons has to be responded to and only the United States has the capacity to stop Assad,” Boehner said after meeting with Obama at the White House. “I believe my colleagues should support the president’s call for action.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also backed the president, who put the ball in Congress’ court last weekend when he said he’d seek formal congressional approval for military action.

“America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially by a terrorist state such as Syria, and to prevent further instability in a region of vital interest to the United States,” Cantor said in a statement.

The show of support from the two top House Republicans left Obama in a stronger political position, but a tough sales pitch still has to be made to dovish Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans who often split with their party leaders. Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said it’s the president’s burden — not congressional leadership’s — to close the deal with members of Congress.

“Now, it is the president’s responsibility to make his case to the American people and their elected representatives,” Buck said in a statement. “Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the Speaker expects the White House to provide answers to members’ questions and take the lead on any whipping effort.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the top House Democrat who also attended the White House meeting,  said she does not think Obama needs authorization from Congress, but expressed confidence he will receive that support anyway.

“Members have to decide,” she said, “are they willing to ignore the fact that this disaster took place or are they not?”