A "conscience vote": That's the congressional euphemism for an issue on which partisan loyalties are so scrambled that lawmakers must make up their own minds. Both Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner have used the term to describe the authorization of military force in Syria, meaning they won't be "whipping," or pressuring members to vote a certain way.
But one Democratic congressman will be whipping -- against the resolution. Alan Grayson, the Florida liberal and civil-libertarian, has been rallying opposition to the use of force both among his colleagues and among the public. He believes the momentum is on his side and the authorization is doomed to fail in the House.
I interviewed Grayson about his effort and his view of the issue Tuesday. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.
You started an online petition against intervention in Syria. Do you think it's gaining traction?
Yes, we've gotten 25,000 signatures in just a couple of days. It's a sign not only that the public is against attacking Syria, but also that they're willing to do something about it. [Ed. note: As of Wednesday afternoon, it was nearly 35,000.] We're seeing not only a lot of opposition in terms of numbers, but also a great deal of intensity. It's an unusual thing to post a petition online, not do anything to promote it, and see almost instantly 25,000 people sign up. We're going to put that to good use. We're going to have people calling their congressman and sending emails. In the case of congressmen who are on the fence, they'll hear from huge numbers of their constituents who want them to vote "no," and it's going to have a dramatic impact.
You also say you're going to whip your colleagues. Has that effort started?
We have started it. The first thing we have done is very carefully keeping track of what our what colleagues actually say about this. A very substantial number of Democrats and Republicans have come out against attacking Syria, and we have begun the process of informing our Democratic colleagues about what their other colleagues are saying. We're circulating a letter that quotes a dozen other Democrats in Congress, as well as me, who have stated their reasons against an attack. That's the first step in what will be a very sophisticated process of persuading our open-minded colleagues on both sides of aisle.