Why Mike Michaud may be Maine’s most important vote on Syria

The fate of congressional approval for a Syrian military strike likely lies more in the House of Representatives than the Senate, as a strong coalition of libertarian-conservatives and anti-war liberals is emerging in the lower body.

That calculus potentially makes Rep. Mike Michaud’s vote more politically consequential than any other member of Maine’s delegation, as his House colleague, Rep. Chellie Pingree says she’s inclined to vote against the a war resolution.

“Nothing that I’ve heard from briefings or conversation has changed that and certainly the calls we’ve been getting from our constituents, which have raised a lot of questions, have reinforced my concerns about going ahead,” she said in an interview Thursday. “I think we learned a lot from Iraq and Afghanistan and I think, frankly, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve gotten such an extreme number of calls in short period of time with such a skewed response from our constituents.”

Michaud, a Maine Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District and a gubernatorial candidate, has yet to decide how he will vote.

“He is currently undecided,” said Ed Gilman, Michaud’s spokesman in a statement Wednesday. “He plans to attend a briefing for members of Congress on the situation in Syria [Monday] and he’d like to review the final language of whatever authorization language will be voted on in the House before making a decision.”

The Senate is slated to take up the authorization vote first, beginning debate next week. A Senate panel voted Wednesday 10 to 7, with one member voting present, to authorize military action. Their version modified a proposal from President Barack Obama to limit the window for an operation to a maximum of 90 days and ban the use of ground troops.

Obama asked for congressional authority to intervene in Syria’s two-year long civil war following a report of chemical weapons use by Syrian President Bashar Assad that kill more than 1,400, including more than 400 children.

Maine’s pair of senators, both of whom serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, are also undecided on the issue.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which allows her access to classified information, said she’s analyzing the facts before her and discussing the issue with experts.

“At this point, I have not reached a decision on how I will vote on this serious matter,” she said in a statement. “I continue to have many questions about the consequences of military action.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, largely echoed Collins’ concerns.

“I am trying to learn as much as I can to understand the ramifications of this question, which are enormous,” King said during a press conference in Portland Wednesday. “Is there more risk to the national interest in doing nothing or is there more risk to the national interest in acting? That’s the question I think we’re all wrestling with.”

And while it’s not obvious the resolution will find the support it needs to pass the Senate, the affirmative committee vote indicates it’s got a fair shot. The House, however, is shaking up to be a real shoot-out, with bipartisan leadership support for approving military action, but few troops lining up behind them. Michaud will likely keep his finger to the wind until the last minute and potentially will feel the heat if the whip count looks at all close.

That said, the House vote is at least more than a week away, and as Pingree pointed out, that’s a lifetime in politics.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer with U.S. News and World Report, who hails from the state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. She spent much of 2012 covering the presidential campaign and particularly enjoyed her time on the road in states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Ohio and Ohio. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and is a Bowdoin College grad.