Congressional Black Caucus remains undecided on Syria
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus left the White House after an hour-long meeting with President Barack Obama with a clear message: They are still undecided on a vote to authorize a strike in Syria.
The CBC, which had requested its members withhold comments on Syria until after Monday’s meeting, is the only rank-and-file group that has been brought to the White House for a one-on-one with the president. But the meeting apparently was not terribly persuasive — not one African-American Democrat who attended the meeting declared a position afterward.
The group is comprised entirely of House Democrats, a key faction that the president must persuade if he hopes to win support for a military strike in the House. The 43-member group of African-American members could provide a big boost for the president if they endorsed the legislation as a group and its lack of a ringing endorsement for Obama’s request is a bad sign for the White House.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, said Obama argued his position well.
“He made a good case for his issue,” Clyburn told POLITICO. “There is nothing missing — it’s all about the politics of it, for me anyway.”
The White House initially said the CBC would be meeting with National Security Adviser Susan Rice. But Obama was present for the majority of the hour and 45 minute meeting. Rice took questions for the last 30 minutes.
“It helped me tremendously in answering some of the questions I have in making a decision,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) told POLITICO. “I’m still in the undecided category. I would like to get all the facts before I make a final decision. It’s probably going to be one of the most difficult decisions I made.”
Butterfield said the opposition from constituents is making the decision harder.
“I don’t think the president was trying to sell it as much as he was trying to explain it,” Butterfield said. “He gave us a very basic interpretation of what is happening in Syria and it’s not a good picture.”
Butterfield joins a growing chorus of lawmakers that say there is little doubt Assad used chemical weapons, but that isn’t enough to get them to vote yes on a strike.
“The evidence is overwhelming — it appears that Assad has used chemical weapons against innocent civilians and that’s unacceptable,” Butterfield said. “There has to be a response. The question is what is the appropriate response? Is it go in and strike his delivery system? The president made that clear — we’re not taking out his chemicals, we would be unable to do that. We would be taking out his delivery system for chemical warfare and that was very helpful.”
Most CBC members who attended the meeting and were contacted both before and afterwards declined to comment. A slew of members simply said they were not prepared to take a position yet.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, left the meeting unwilling to declare his position.
“This is a very difficult decision for everyone but that doesn’t mean the meeting wasn’t a productive one. I think it was extremely helpful. I thought the president was very frank with us and I’m glad he did it.”
Cummings said there is still more for the president to do to convince not only members, but the public.