WASHINGTON -- Overcoming reservations from the left, the right and the American public, a Senate committee Wednesday passed a resolution to bomb Syria in retaliation for President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.
In a delayed markup of a resolution to authorize the use of military force, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7, with one present, to let President Barack Obama mount a bombing campaign aimed at the Syrian regime's weapons of mass destruction for up to 90 days, albeit within a more limited scope than Obama had requested. Specifically, the committee included language that would prohibit the use of U.S. troops on the ground "for the purpose of combat operations."
Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) voted for the resolution.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) voted against the authorization, while Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) voted present.
The committee also voted 14-5 to table an amendment from Paul that would clarify the president's constitutional authority to use military force in the event that Congress voted against intervention in Syria. Paul's amendment would include language in the resolution to specify that if the authorization failed to pass Congress, the president "would be in violation of the Constitution" if he ordered a military strike against the Syrian government anyway.
In arguing for his amendment, Paul said that his fellow lawmakers should dispense with the Obama administration's claim that such an action would be short of war. "This will indeed be a war," he said.
Rubio, Flake, McCain and Barrasso all voted to table Paul's amendment.
McCain, long a proponent of intervention in Syria's two-year civil war, demanded -- and won -- an amendment that said the U.S. aim was to change the momentum in the war in favor of the rebels.
The Senate resolution crafted by Menendez and Corker specifies that it is directed at weapons of mass destruction, seeking to deter their further use and to "degrade" Syria's ability to use them. McCain told reporters before the vote that he believed "in the strongest terms" that a provision must be included that would help create conditions for Assad's departure. The senator thus moved closer to calling for the sort of drive to affect regime change that some libertarians and liberals oppose.
"When Bashar Assad remains in an advantageous position, he will never leave Syria. He has to know that he is losing," McCain said. "There is no policy without that, and there is no strategy without that, except for significant attacking of facilities that deliver chemical weapons against the Free Syrian Army."
McCain added that both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have said they favor changing the momentum on the ground in Syria. "So I don't know why they should be resistant to that being a sense of purpose embodied in the legislation," he said.
Udall offered an amendment that would only authorize naval and air base military strikes outside Syrian territory or airspace "as the president determines to be necessary and appropriate." He said the measure would ensure that the U.S. role remained limited and not leave room for an open-ended "bombing campaign."
The amendment failed 17-1, as other members of the committee argued it would "tie the president's hands" by placing too many restrictions on his ability to act effectively.
"This is micromanagement that frankly is not only unnecessary, but we really can't tell the president of the United States what tactics he has to employ," McCain said.
The Senate resolution that passed the committee calls for the White House to present a plan within 30 days of the resolution's enactment. It gives Obama 60 days to act, with the option of extending the action for another 30 days. Congress can disapprove of the extension.
Before senators worked out their compromises, they attended a classified briefing Wednesday morning with Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that ended up running nearly four hours.
Also speaking before the vote, Corker had said there was "some degree of flexibility" for additions to the draft resolution, though he declined to offer specifics on which amendments would be considered. The committee's top Republican conceded that it was tough to bring lawmakers together in support of military action that was both narrow and broad enough to address everyone's concerns, but added that it was "not a fair assessment" to suggest the committee didn't have the votes to continue.
Paul told reporters that he didn't see a "clear-cut or compelling American interest" to justify taking action in Syria -- though during the markup hearing, he denied reports that he was going to filibuster the resolution on the Senate floor.
"I see a horrible tragedy, but I don't see that our involvement will lessen the tragedy," Paul, one of the most vocal opponents of Syria intervention, said after the classified briefing.
He nonetheless acknowledged that the resolution would likely be approved by the full Senate. "The only chance of stopping what I consider to be bad policy will be in the House," Paul said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee held its own hearing with Kerry and Hagel on Wednesday. The fate of any resolution in the lower chamber appeared less certain than in the Senate.
UPDATE: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has released the revised text of the resolution to authorize military force in Syria:
CLARIFICATION: During the markup hearing for the Syria resolution, Sen. Rand Paul said that, earlier reports notwithstanding, he did not plan to filibuster the resolution on the Senate floor.
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