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OPINION - The President and the vote count

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  In the House of Representatives, the majority Whip is, first and foremost, a vote counter. When the leadership wants a vote, the Whip needs to know if the measure will pass. If not, the whipping begins -- everything from a simple arm around the shoulder to threats of a primary opponent would be in-play. 

But the upcoming vote on Syria is different. It's been decided that this will be a vote of conscience, and there will be no whipping. That's double-bad for the White House. First, it means there will be no arm-twisting to get GOP members to support a use-of-force resolution. But second, and more important, it means there's no count of the votes. If the roll were to be called today, no one knows the 'yeas' and 'nays'.

That's one of the curious things about tonight's Presidential address. The President is only indirectly speaking to the public. He's actually trying to persuade members of Congress. But he doesn't know exactly how many votes he needs. It's like playing football without knowing where the goal-line is. And in Congress, you never vote without knowing the results.

For those who argue that the President is looking for a way out of the "bright red line" box he's talked himself into, I'm not so sure. Last week's Senate proposal for 45-days of diplomacy was a lifeline that the White House didn't grab onto. Today Russia proposed international monitors for Syria's chemical weapons. That proposal has also been tepidly received by the Obama Administration. And tonight's effort to line up more votes on Capital Hill looks more like an effort to press forward instead of backing down.

A military strike on Syria still looks like bad policy. It's fascinating that the Administration can't find a way out.