House Democrats - Syria

 The House cannot pass a Syria measure without vast support from Democrats. | AP Photos

By BURGESS EVERETT, SEUNG MIN KIM and GINGER GIBSON | 9/6/13 6:14 PM EDT

Democratic lawmakers are confronting an unpleasant reality: It will be up to them to support military strikes in Syria if they want to save President Barack Obama from a dramatic defeat in Congress.

Take Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat who doesn’t yet know how she’ll vote on the measure. Gabbard worries about the unintended consequences of a strike in the Middle Eastern nation, which is riven by a complex civil war.

“If this authorization is approved and this limited strike occurs as the president has presented, there are a number of things outside of our control that could occur, which could potentially further obligate us into something within Syria and the region,” Gabbard told POLITICO Friday morning after leaving a classified briefing.

(WATCH: Timeline of Syria crisis response)

If Obama hopes for victory in Congress, he must gain the support of undecided Democrats like Gabbard, who served in the military in Iraq and remains active in the National Guard. Democrats are expected to shoulder a Senate vote, if it’s successful. Few rank-and-file Democrats have taken the step of publicly expressing their support for Obama and his Syria mission, even though Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) predicts the legislation will ultimately pass the Senate.

And the House simply cannot pass — at this time — a use-of-force measure without support from the vast majority of the House Democratic Caucus. A vote in the House is expected in the “next two weeks,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wrote in a memo to colleagues Friday.

Many Democrats remain in a defensive crouch leaning no, and several House members and senators are publicly stating their opposition. But a president who ran on an anti-war platform endorsing action in Syria may actually help the administration’s case, said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a key Obama ally who remains undecided.

(Also on POLITICO: Syria: It’s not about the oil)

“I think that may be to his advantage. That he in the past has taken the stance he has taken on war, because I think people will say: ‘Okay, here’s somebody who has had this stance for a long time and now he’s saying because of these particular circumstances, I believe that we must do this,’” Cummings said.

And other House Democrats want to ensure Congress is playing a major role in the ongoing debate over whether to strike Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

“The one thing I would say is that the president should understand … that Congress’s role in matters of war and peace is not just an advisory role,” said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who is leaning against military action in Syria.

(PHOTOS: Syria: Where politicians stand)

Obama and his lieutenants have engaged in a “flood the zone” approach, contacting as many as one-third of lawmakers individually over the congressional recess and holding several classified briefings on the Hill. Senior administration officials will address the whole House on Monday evening, while White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, who remains highly popular among lawmakers, will meet with the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday morning. National Security Adviser Susan Rice is meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus on Monday and a full Senate briefing is planned for Monday evening.

Several Democrats said Senate leadership is not yet actively drumming up support for Syria, leaving much of heavy lifting to the Obama administration. For some, the White House’s approach is working.

One of those Senate leaders, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said Friday that he will support authorization of military action, calling the resolution in the Senate “clear, limited and specific.”

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