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Why Boehner had 'no choice' but to support Obama on Syria

In a hyperpartisan Washington, House Speaker John Boehner backing President Obama on anything seems extraordinary. But in the case of Syria, not backing him could be worse.

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President Obama (r.) talks with House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio prior to speaking to media in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington Tuesday to discuss the situation in Syria.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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When House Speaker John Boehner came out Tuesday in support of President Obama’s call to action in Syria – followed quickly by the No. 2 House Republican, Eric Cantor – Washington erupted in gasps.

How often, after all, in the hyperpartisan world of the nation’s capital, does that happen on any issue?

But really, the show of national unity over proposed military action in Syria, following that country’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people, isn’t all that surprising, analysts say.

“They [Republican House leaders] really had no choice – that’s my sense,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “I think they understood what [Republican Sen. John] McCain said yesterday – that to say no, as the British Parliament did, would be a devastating blow to American credibility.”

But it’s also clear, in light of two new polls out Tuesday, that Mr. Obama has his work cut out in convincing the American public – and by extension, Congress – that military involvement in yet another country is a good idea.  

A survey by the Pew Research Center taken Aug. 29 to Sept. 1 finds both “broad concern over the possible consequences of military action in Syria and little optimism it will be effective,” the Pew report says.

Nearly half the American public – 48 percent – opposes military airstrikes against Syria over its reported use of chemical weapons, versus 29 percent of Americans who support such action.

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