POLITICS
09/06/2013 02:06 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2013

Obama: Decision To Strike Syria Shouldn't Depend On Public Opinion

WASHINGTON -- In 2008, then-Vice President Dick Cheney was told in an interview that two-thirds of Americans opposed the Iraq War.

"So?" he replied.

The interviewer, ABC News' Martha Raddatz, then asked Cheney if he cared what the American people thought. He responded, "No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."

President Barack Obama, who spoke out forcefully against the Iraq War before he became president, is now on the other side, trying to convince a skeptical public -- and wary lawmakers who have to answer to those constituents -- that striking Syria is the right decision.

That may prove to be a difficult task. "When you've got 97 percent of your constituents saying no, it's kind of hard to say yes," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said Thursday.

During a press conference at the G-20 summit in Russia on Friday, a reporter asked Obama about that issue: "Why should members of Congress go against the will of their constituents and support your decision on this?"

Obama was less curt than Cheney on the topic of public opinion, saying he hoped he could convince both the public and Congress that his plan for military intervention Syria is in America's best interest. But he said that ultimately, he hopes lawmakers don't base their decision entirely on public opinion:

It’s conceivable that at the end of the day, I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do. And then each member of Congress is gonna have to decide, if I think it’s the right thing to do for America’s national security and the world’s national security, then how do I vote?

And you know what? That's what you're supposed to do as a member of Congress. Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you've also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America. And that's the same for me as president of the United States. There are a whole bunch of decisions that I make that are unpopular, as you well know.

But I do so because I think they're the right thing to do, and I trust my constituents want me to offer my best judgment, that’s why they elected me. That’s why they re-elected me, even after there were some decisions I made that they disagreed with. And I would hope that members of Congress would end up feeling the same way.

The last point I would make. Those kinds of interventions, these kinds of actions are always unpopular, because they seem distant and removed.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who supports the president's call to intervene in Syria, admits that his stance is incredibly unpopular. He told the Washington Post that the vast majority of the few hundred people who have contacted his office have been against a strike.

View the current whip count of where House lawmakers stand on Syria intervention:

Map

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

PHOTO GALLERIES
Here's What Politicians Have Said About Syria
Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?

CONVERSATIONS