Pro-Israel Lobby Seeks to Turn Tide on Syria Debate in Congress

Can the Jewish lobby change public support on Syria?

Lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee is helping to push President Barack Obama's Syria intervention.

Lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee is helping to push President Barack Obama's Syria intervention.

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As lawmakers announce their disillusionment with striking Syria one by one, the Obama administration is looking for reinforcements. It seems everywhere they turn, it's President Barack Obama versus Capitol Hill.

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After two public congressional hearings with Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, not to mention countless classified briefings, Obama is loosing the war of popular opinion this week.

Friday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, the man who lines up votes for his party, came out in opposition to the resolution to intervene in Syria. Thursday, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, turned their backs on Obama's call for action in the Middle East.

"I knew this was going to be a heavy lift," Obama said Friday during a press conference about the growing battle.

Coming in for the assist is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The group announced it will unfold an all-out effort on Capitol Hill, a landmark move for an organization that has sat out rounding up members for votes on other resolutions in the past. 

More than 200 leaders are expected to lobby lawmakers next week. The leaders will explain that a Syria strike will send a message not just to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but also Iranian leaders who are watching to see how the U.S. stands up against the deployment of chemical weapons.

"Simply put, barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass," AIPAC said in a released statement. "This is a critical moment when America must also send a forceful message of resolve to Iran and Hezbollah — both of whom have provided direct and extensive military support to Assad. The Syrian regime and its Iranian ally have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not respect civilized norms."

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The hope is that the lobbying efforts can counter the brash disillusionment with the conflict that is sweeping across town halls this week.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who voted in favor of a resolution to strike Syria in committee, faced off against concerned constituents Thursday in an explosive town hall.

McCain encountered one constituent who called Congress "a bag of Marshmallows."

"This is what I think of Congress," he said, then holding up a bag of fluffy treats shouted "They are a bunch of marshmallows. That's what they are. That's what they've become. Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? It is not our fight."

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Clarified on 9/9/2013: An earlier version of this story referred narrowly to AIPAC, which is a pro-Israel lobby.