The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution authorizing the U.S. to take military action in Syria, sending the matter to debate before the full Senate. The bill, while only four pages long before the process began, carries a great deal of weight both politically for the senators voting and the world as it watches to see if the United States will respond to chemical weapons attacks against civilians in Syria with the use of force.
Not much changed from the version originally drafted between committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and ranking member Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), which was designed to limit the timeframe in which the U.S. could launch attacks on Syria without further congressional approval. The largest question going into the markup was whether Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would be able to see enough changes to the bill that he could vote for the authorization. Earlier today, the veteran senator told reporters that he could not support the bill as it stood, leading to him working with Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) to craft language that would regain his support. Despite the hype leading up to the hearing, the committee approved by voice vote a pair of amendments that added in non-binding clauses affirming American support for the eventual toppling of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, thereby satisfying McCain’s demands.
In the end, the committee voted in a surprisingly close result, with the document passing by a vote of 10 in favor and 7 opposed (7 Democrats and 3 Republicans voting in favor, 2 Democrats and 5 Republicans voting against). Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), only recently sworn in, voted present. Democrats voting against included both Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who joined the majority of Republicans on the committee in doing so. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in particular was vocal in his opposition, stating after the vote that while the bill didn’t do enough to help remove Assad from power, the use of military force in Syria wouldn’t accomplish American goals.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) also had offered an amendment, seeking to assuage his concerns that President Obama wouldn’t take action against Syria even if the vote in Congress doesn’t go his way. While his measure ended up failing, Paul has denied claims that he would filibuster the final version of the bill.
Democrats had their own concerns about the bill as it stood, offering several amendments to tighten the language during the hearing. The committee passed Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) amendment, which would allow the president to to use force to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons to others in the region, as was in the administration’s original draft. Not all amendments from the majority passed, however. One from Udall to limit U.S. action to only taking place from outside of Syrian territory or airspace was voted down resoundingly, with several senators arguing it bound Obama’s hands unnecessarily.