By Brian Tumulty
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has a major sales job to do with the 29-member New York congressional delegation on his request for congressional authorization to intervene militarily in Syria.
Obama announced Friday at the end of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, that he plans to address the nation Tuesday to "make the best case that I can" for intervening in response to the Syrian government's apparent use of chemical weapons.
"I do consider it part of my job to help make the case and to explain to the American people exactly why I think this is the right thing to do,'' Obama said.
However, Obama said senators and House members also have a responsibility.
"Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you've also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America,'' he said.
Congress returns from recess Monday with seven New York House members already planning to vote no.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and 16 House members in the delegation are undecided.
Only three members of the delegation - Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of the Bronx and Republican Rep. Peter King of Long Island - are voicing support for U.S. military intervention.
Another two House members haven't issued any official statement on the topic since the president announced his request Aug. 31, according to a survey by the Gannett Washington Bureau.
Gillibrand and freshman Democratic Rep. Sean Maloney of Cold Spring said before Obama's request that they supported limited military action in Syria, but they are now undecided on how they will vote.
Gillibrand was unable to attend any classified briefings on Syria over the past week because she's been part of a congressional delegation visiting China, Japan and South Korea.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island announced Thursday he now opposes military action after initially favoring it.
"My initial reaction, as a Marine combat veteran, was to stand by the commander in chief and support immediate, targeted strikes,'' Grimm said in a statement. "I believed that the reputation and credibility of the United States was on the line and that we had to send a strong message that the use of chemical weapons is reprehensible and will not be tolerated. Unfortunately, the time to act was then and the moment to show our strength has passed.''
The other six New York House members who said they will vote against military intervention are Republicans Tom Reed of Corning and Chris Gibson of Kinderhook, and Democrats Brian Higgins of Buffalo, Jose Serrano of the Bronx, Charles Rangel of Harlem and Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn.
Engel and King have been outspoken in their support for punishing Syrian President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians, while Schumer has been circumspect about the conditions under which he would support military action.
Schumer has condemned the use of chemical weapons, but favors a restricted time limit and no boots on the ground.
Engel also favors limits, telling reporters Tuesday following a White House briefing "America is war-weary and so am I.''
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday to send to the Senate floor an authorization for a 60-day military intervention with a possible 30-day extension.
Testifying before House and Senate committees, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave repeated assurances this past week that no U.S. ground troops will be used.
But many lawmakers have concerns about U.S. contingency planning for Assad's response and the possibility of igniting a wider conflict.
There's also concern about the U.S acting unilaterally instead of participating as part of a multi-national coalition.
Kerry told congressional committees that 34 countries support U.S. plans for military action.
On Friday, 10 countries - including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom - joined the United States in a declaration condemning the chemical attacks in Syria and calling on a U.N. fact-finding team "to present its results as soon as possible, and for the Security Council to act accordingly.''
Meanwhile, administration officials are trying to build congressional support for military action.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough briefed members of the Hispanic Caucus and Progressive Caucus during phone calls Wednesday.
A classified briefing for House members of both parties is planned for Monday evening.
Four recent polls show about 51 percent of Americans oppose military intervention in Syria, according to an analysis by RealClearPolitics.
The most recent survey, conducted for Reuters by Ipsos, was begun the day before Obama's request for congressional action. It found 48 percent of Americans opposed intervention even in light of the finding that Assad's regime used chemical weapons.
Twenty-nine percent supported intervention and 24 percent were undecided.
Public awareness of Syria increased from 72 percent during an Aug. 19-23 Reuters/Ispos survey to 91 percent during the Aug. 30-Sept. 3 poll.
New York lawmakers also are surveying their constituents.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, who is undecided, is using automated phone calls in her Rochester-area congressional district to ask constituents to weigh in on Syria on her official website.