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Syria and Obama's political conundrum

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It was a rough week in Washington for President Barack Obama. And he wasn't even there.

As the President attended the G20 summit in Russia, support in Congress cratered for his plan to launch punitive missile strikes at the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. If a vote were held today, Obama would likely face a big loss in the House. And passage in the Senate—required to even get the measure to the House—is also far from assured.

Congressional opposition has largely flowed from deep public disapproval of hitting Syria over Assad's use of chemical weapons. So at the end of the week, Obama took the only course left to him: he said would speak to the nation on Tuesday to lay out his case. It may turn out that Obama erred in not making a public case first before going to Congress for support.

If Obama cannot win votes in Congress for a Syria strike, he will almost certainly have to stand down. Launching an attack without public or Congressional support could destroy the president's political standing and turn the remaining years of his presidency into a nightmare.

But even if he backs off, Obama will still face a weakened hand when facing off with Republicans over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling later this fall. In addition to blowing up fiscal talks, a Syria strike could also have other unpredictable impacts on a U.S. economy otherwise showing some signs of strength.

(Read more DC Money Insider: Syria vote holds huge implications for Obama presidency)

The Syria situation may also make it somewhat harder for Obama to nominate his preferred candidate for the Fed, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that three Democratic members of the Senate Banking Committee, which will be the first to vote on the Fed nominee, are likely to oppose Summers. That would increase the need for GOP support to even get Summers to the Senate floor, where he will need 60 votes.

If Obama has to strong-arm liberal Senate Democrats to support him on Syria, can he really do it again when it comes time to nominate a Fed Chair? Washington insiders say no. People close to the White House say yes. But that could change.

ALSO THIS WEEK: The Friday employment report showing a gain of 169,000 and a slight decline in the jobless rate to 7.3 percent (based on people dropping out of the labor force) was pretty weak. But it was probably not weak enough to change the Fed's plans to begin tapering asset purchases at its September meeting. Other data on hiring intentions suggest stronger job growth should return later this year. And if the Fed wants to be done with quantitative easing by the time unemployment hits 7 percent it cannot really wait any longer.

Your DCMI columnist will see you Monday when the most important event of the week takes place: Redskins vs. Eagles on Monday Night Football. Hail to the Redskins. (That's for DCMI's editor, a diehard Eagles fan).

— By Ben White, POLITICO's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. White also authors the daily tip sheet POLITICO Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney] Follow him onTwitter @morningmoneyben.

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