Last June, the U.S. Senate overwhelming passed immigration reform by a vote of 68-32. Yet, many commentators noted that it's DOA in the House. Similarly, the president's recent plea to Congress to approve a resolution authorizing him to use military force in Syria seems like a long shot as well. A rough count of the votes has 25 senators – 18 Democrats and 7 Republicans – voting/leaning yes, with 29 voting/leaning no. It's more of a partisan split here, with 22 Republicans and 7 Democrats making up this coalition. Nevertheless, 46 members of the Senate (27 Democrats, 17 Republicans, 2 Independents) remain undecided.
The House is more lopsided. 195 Representatives are voting, or leaning, no on the resolution, with only 31 supporting the president's call for air strikes. Nevertheless, that still leaves 128 Representatives up for grabs. At the same time, this Syrian puzzle is threatening immigration reform this term. Is it over? It seems that way. Yet, a new study shows that not all is lost on either front.
Chad Murphy of the University of Mary Washington and Chris Westbury of the University of Alberta did a comprehensive study showing that there are more than enough votes to pass both measures.
On immigration, Murphy said:
[L]ooked at member’s beliefs about the major issues and players in the system. Through a statistical analysis of all floor speeches by members of the House of Representatives, I found that at least 60% of the House of Representatives are negative toward the concept of amnesty, but if given the choice they would likely vote for it anyway.
I analyzed floor speeches for all members of Congress and looked at how they speak about immigrants and amnesty. Through a high-dimensional computer analysis of these speeches, I find that Democrats and around 80 Republicans are pro-immigration. However, while only the most liberal members of the House have positive feelings toward amnesty the 250+ pro-immigration members of Congress are also likely to vote for a bill that includes amnesty.
This means that if the House was able to vote on the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate earlier this year, a substantial majority of the House would vote for the bill. It will ultimately be a test of John Boehner’s leadership skills to see if he can keep the Senate bill off the agenda. A majority of the chamber supports the legislation, but only 1/3 of his party.
In his speech on August 31, President Obama said that he wanted to take military action against Syria for using chemical weapons but would consult with Congress first. While the president spoke of the need for partisan unity in his rose garden speech, a limited military action in Syria is unlikely to run into much opposition from Republican members of Congress who believe that war is the president’s responsibility.
I analyzed floor speeches for all members of the House and Senate and looked to see who they attributed war powers to. Through a high-dimensional computer analysis of these speeches, I find that over 80% of both chambers at least weakly believe that the responsibility for war falls on the president rather than on Congress. The only group of politicians that linked war more closely to Congress was comprised of the most liberal members of the House and Senate.
Ultimately what this means is that the president is unlikely to see much pushback from Congress and will get a joint resolution supporting his initial mission in Syria. This becomes even more likely because the only real opposition will be from his own party who will not want to weaken their president.
Full details on the method are explained in: “Expanding the Scope of Selective Exposure: An Objective Approach to Measurement of Media Ideology,” by Chad Murphy and Chris Westbury, published in the current issue of Communication Methods and Measures.