Why One Obama Loyalist Is Breaking with the President on Syria

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Emanuel Cleaver is one of President Obama’s biggest champions in Congress and even served as a national co-chairman of Obama’s first presidential campaign.  But the strong Obama loyalist is poised to break step with the president in his call for congressional approval for military action against Syria.

Following a heated town hall meeting in his home district in Missouri, Cleaver told ABC News that there has never been an issue that has caused him “to lose as much sleep as this vote,” but says the president’s argument has not yet been convincing.

"You know what I keep thinking?  What would I be saying and what would I be doing if George Bush was in the White House?” Cleaver said.  “Because otherwise, I'm practicing situational principles and if I do that, I don't like me.  What's right should be right, no matter who sleeps in the White House.”

For two hours, Cleaver got an earful from constituents expressing skepticism and opposition to action in Syria.

One man took to the microphone to tell Cleaver, “My short answer to this is not no, but hell no.”

Another woman stood up to express her concern for the Syrian people but had doubts a military strike would be effective.

“My heart does go out to those people, and I think we can do something,” she said.  “But I don’t think that means we have to bomb the hell out of the country.”

But the room fell silent when Alma Habib, a young Syrian-American woman, had her turn to speak and appealed for Cleaver to support the president.

“Being a Syrian and wanting the U.S. to bomb my country, that's a big deal, that shows how serious the situation has become and how bad it is,” said Habib, a 22-year-old nursing student.  “I think we owe it to humanity.  Over 100,000 people have died, and I think we owe it to them.”

Though Cleaver said the stories of Syrian-Americans calling for military action were “heart-breaking,” he says it was not enough to convince him that military action is the best course of action.

“I don't want them to think the opposite of not having military strikes is doing nothing,” Cleaver said, speaking in reference to those Syrian-Americans.  “I think there are some things in the peaceful arsenal that the president can use.  I think they need to be explored."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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