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Syria vote: What happens if Obama loses?

Current polls show the House opposing a strike on Syria. Obama is not saying whether he would order an attack anyway, but a loss could have long-lasting political effects at home and abroad.

By Staff Writer / September 6, 2013

US President Barack Obama pauses as he answers a question regarding the ongoing situation in Syria during his news conference at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Washington

Right now it appears as if President Obama might not win a congressional vote authorizing military action in Syria. Even if such an authorization made it through the Senate, current head counts indicate it would face defeat in the House if a vote were held Friday.

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A Washington Post running count as of Friday afternoon showed 104 House members would vote “no” on Syria right now. A further 120 said they “lean no” on the issue.

“Lean no” isn’t necessarily the same as “no,” as scores of final House outcomes make clear. The vote isn’t being held Friday, so Mr. Obama still has time to make his case to wavering lawmakers.

But combine those two categories above and the total surpasses the 217 votes that would be needed to defeat the Syria measure. ABC News came up with similar numbers in its whip count on Friday. So did the liberal-leaning web site Firedoglake.

What would happen then? The answer to that question could have a profound effect on US foreign policy and relations between Congress and the executive branch for years to come.

The first and most important decision for Obama would be whether to carry through and strike the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad anyway.

White House officials have said that as a matter of inherent executive branch power Obama believes he has the right to launch an attack no matter the congressional outcome.

Asked at his Friday press conference what he would do if Congress votes “no,” Obama declined to answer the question.

“I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate because right now I’m working to get as much support as possible out of Congress,” Obama said.

But there are some indications a Syria strike is unlikely without congressional approval. A New York Times story Friday quoted anonymous White House aides as saying such a unilateral course of action is “almost unthinkable,” and would surely launch a move toward impeachment in the House, which would drain and distract the administration at the least.

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