Excerpted from Politico: Barack Obama’s supporters built a political organization to pressure Congress to build public support for him. Yet on one of his biggest efforts since Organizing for Action re-launched early this year — the push to convince Congress to adopt a use-of-force authorization against Syria — the group has so far sat on the sidelines.
OFA’s silence has been palpable. It didn’t send one of its ubiquitous emails to supporters and volunteers, nor did it signal to top donors how it might help press Obama’s case on Syria — or even whether it would participate in the president’s push at all.
It’s been a marked departure from how OFA handled Obama’s policy pushes on the environment, gun control, the economy and immigration, all of which came with cross-platform support. And it leaves dormant Obama’s single biggest lobbying army, the group formed with the express purpose of pressuring Congress to pass Obama’s agenda, at a time when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said it will be up to the president to whip votes in support of a Syrian attack.
Officially nonpartisan, OFA exists to mobilize supporters to support the president’s agenda. Syria shapes up as the first major second-term vote to draw broad bipartisan support, with Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) all announcing themselves in favor of providing Obama a use-of-force authorization.
Since its January launch, OFA hasn’t had much luck convincing Republicans to back Obama’s gun control and climate change proposals, now it has sat out the White House push to bring Democrats on board to a Syria attack.
While large segments of the Democratic base are furious with the prospect of launching missiles into another Middle Eastern country and liberal base groups like Moveon.org have come out against intervention. OFA stuck to its domestic issues agenda in the days after the president’s remarks, even taking the time to send a congratulatory tweet in Obama’s name to a Cuba-to-Florida swimmer — but offering no guidance to his supporters about the looming Syria vote.
The hurdles on Syria for OFA are multiple: The millions of Obama supporters on their email list aren’t the sort to raise their voice in support of military action. And members of Congress already know that the vast majority of their constituents already oppose American involvement in Syria.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told his colleagues on a conference call Sunday that calls to Democrats congressional offices are unanimously opposed to a Syria strike, said a person who was on the call.
“Every member is going to be sensitive to the calls that are coming in, but they recognize that it’s just a certain group of people calling in,” said a House Democrat who supports taking action on Syria. “People aren’t waking up and calling their congressman and telling him to go to war in Syria.”
In fact, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) tweeted that calls opposing Syrian intervention outnumber those supporting it 753-10.
One of OFA’s top donors said Monday that the group’s legion of volunteers, already engaged on pushing Obama’s agenda for health care, immigration, climate change or gun control, aren’t likely to be the types to support American intervention in Syria.
And Syria is too tricky an issue among the Democratic base for OFA to weigh in in a substantial way, said Dick Harpootlian, the former South Carolina Democratic chairman who is a $10,000 donor to OFA.
“They’re going to be trying to galvanize people on healthcare and voter registration and issues that 95 percent of the base and independents agree on,” Harpootlian said. “I think that is too divisive an issue for OFA. They back his agenda but this is not going to affect healthcare, it’s not going affect voter ID laws, it’s not going to affect immigration, it doesn’t affect all that.”
OFA officials declined to comment for this story.
The group’s non-engagement so far on Syria marks a stark shift from its approach to the president’s major policy pushes this year.
When Obama rolled out his environmental agenda, OFA blasted an email under the president’s name two hours later. The next day the organization had Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) address volunteers on a conference call about climate change and what they could do to help the president.
Later, OFA began highlighting the congressional Republicans who deny climate change. On immigration and gun control, OFA partnered with other groups pushing for reform.
But even if OFA found groups willing to partner with it to back Obama’s Syria stance now, it hardly has enough time at this point to mount a comprehensive campaign before next week’s congressional debate over the use-of-force authorization sought by the White House.
OFA finds itself in a similar spot as Obama himself was before he made the decision to seek congressional approval for a Syrian offensive. The group, built as a top-down grass-roots organization, can push forward to back the president’s Syria push and risk angering its members and volunteers — or it can seek out their opinion and risk a rejection. Keep Reading