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Syria vote could have consequences for 2016

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
updated 8:13 AM EDT, Tue September 3, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The vote on Syria might serve as an important test for a handful of Republicans
  • Sen. Ted Cruz: "I am troubled by the justifications the Obama administration has put forth."
  • Sen. Rand Paul: It's a "mistake" to get involved in Syria's civil War
  • Sen. Marco Rubio: "A clear and attainable national security goal" needs to exist first

(CNN) -- An expected congressional vote next week could affect a presidential race that won't officially get under way for more than year.

And the vote on whether to authorize military action against the Syrian government might serve as an important test for the handful of congressional Republicans who are considering 2016 bids for the White House.

At issue for the lawmakers: Do they agree with President Barack Obama's push for retaliation against Damascus for what the administration says was the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons against its own citizens?

The three GOP senators who are considered possible White House contenders in the next presidential election all appear opposed to military action.

"It is incumbent on the president to make the case that military action is in furtherance of the vital national security interest of the United States," freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told reporters Saturday after speaking at a conservative gathering in Florida. "I am troubled by the justifications the Obama administration has put forth so far."

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"In my view, U.S. military force is justified only to protect the vital national security interest of the United States," added Cruz, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Cruz appears to be in the same camp as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press": "I think it's a mistake to get involved in the Syrian civil war."

In an opinion piece for CNN.com published Friday, Paul argued against U.S. intervention, saying, "It seems on all sides we have violence and chaos and it is unclear if any side will, in the end, be a friend of the United States."

Paul: Obama, don't rush into war in Syria

Paul sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as does Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who appears reluctant to support any resolution backing a strike against Syria.

Rubio issued a statement Saturday saying, "The United States should only engage militarily when it is pursuing a clear and attainable national security goal. Military action taken simply to send a message or save face does not meet that standard."

On the House side, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, last year's Republican vice presidential nominee, has not taken a public position on Syria.

Rep. Peter King of New York, who has recently also flirted with a possible 2016 bid, strongly supports taking military action, but has criticized the president for delaying the decision by asking for congressional authorization and not calling Congress back into session immediately. Congress does not reconvene until September 9.

"He should call us back into session tomorrow," King said Sunday.

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While they don't get a vote, other possible GOP White House hopefuls won't get a pass. Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Perry of Texas, Mike Pence of Indiana, John Kasich of Ohio, and Susana Martinez of New Mexico will most likely be asked if they agree or disagree with the president, as will other possible candidates, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate

While the GOP has always had anti-war voices and a libertarian wing, those voices appear to have grown a bit louder recently, thanks in part to a public weary after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the rise of the tea party and other grass-roots activists, who have brought new perspectives into the party.

If you need proof that a vote in September 2013 can affect voters in 2016, just take a quick trip down memory lane.

How the House will vote

Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York was one of 29 Democrats who voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, which gave President George W. Bush's administration the go-ahead to eventually send U.S. troops to Iraq.

How the Senate will vote

That vote came back to hurt Clinton years later, as she was battling then-Sen. Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

"Clinton's vote on Iraq probably didn't doom her candidacy all by itself, but it did give Obama a major issue that could be used to drive a wedge between Clinton and many rank-and-file Democrats," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "In 2006, most observers assumed that liberals would rally behind Clinton. By 2008, it was clear that Iraq had allowed Obama to outflank Clinton to her left."

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