Senate committee OKs resolution for military force in Syria

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by Arlette Saenz and Jeff Zeleny

ABC News

Posted on September 4, 2013 at 11:57 PM

(ABC News) -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee today approved a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria, setting the matter up for consideration by the full Senate when it returns next week.

The committee voted 10-7 in favor of the resolution, with one senator voting “present.” The resolution sets a 60-day timeframe for President Obama to act with limited strikes against Syria, with a possibility of a 30-day extension. The new resolution would also bar the use of U.S. ground troops in Syria.

The White House, which has deployed administration officials throughout the week to make the argument for the use of military force in Syria, commended the committee for approving the resolution in a bipartisan manner.

“We commend the Senate for moving swiftly and for working across party lines on behalf of our national security,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today. “We believe America is stronger when the president and Congress work together.

“The military action authorized in the resolution would uphold America’s national security interests by degrading [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad’s chemical weapons capability and deterring the future use of these weapons, even as we pursue a broader strategy of strengthening the opposition to hasten a political transition in Syria.”

Two Democrats, Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, joined five Republicans to oppose the resolution. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., two likely presidential contenders in 2016, were among the Republicans voting against it. (SEE ALL VOTES BELOW)

“The risks of the actions we are contemplating now are too great, and I cannot support this proposal,” Udall said.

Rubio said, “I remain unconvinced that the use of force proposed here will work. The only thing that will prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future is for the Syrian people to remove him from power. The strike the administration wants us to approve, I do not believe, furthers that goal, and in fact, I believe that U.S. military action of the type contemplated here may prove to counterproductive.”

The close committee vote signals a pending battle on the Senate floor next week, but at least one of its opponents, Paul, predicted it will pass the upper chamber.

“The only chance of stopping what I consider to be bad policy will happen in the House,” Paul told reporters today.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a key Republican whom the White House lobbied earlier this week to support the resolution, voted in favor of the resolution after expressing concerns earlier in the day that it did include language to “change the momentum on the battlefield,” as well as arm the opposition forces.

So McCain co-sponsored two amendments with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., to address such issues, and both were approved by a voice vote.

The McCain-Coons amendment reads “it is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria.”

It also says U.S. strategy will “degrade the capabilities of the Assad regime to use weapons of mass destruction while upgrading the lethal and non-lethal military capabilities of vetted elements of Syrian opposition forces, including the Free Syrian Army.”

In a statement, McCain said, “These amendments are vital to ensuring that any U.S. military operations in Syria are part of a broader strategy to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria. That strategy must degrade the military capabilities of the Assad regime while upgrading the military capabilities of moderate Syrian opposition forces.

“These amendments would put the Congress on the record that this is the policy of the United States, as President Obama has assured me it is.”

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., was the lone senator to vote “present” in today’s committee markup of the Syria resolution.  Markey, who holds the seat previously held by Secretary of State John Kerry, attempted to explain his vote in a statement.

“The resolution as currently drafted contains language that could be interpreted as expanding the scope of the U.S. military action beyond merely the degradation and deterrence of Assad’s chemical weapons capability,” he said. “The current version of the resolution goes beyond the president’s objective of responding to the use of chemical weapons to call for a broader U.S. political and military strategy in Syria that includes expanded support for various opposition groups, efforts to limit support for the Syrian regime from the government of Iran and activities to isolate terrorist groups in Syria. Although some of these may be desirable objectives, as written they could result in deeper U.S. military involvement in a country inflamed by sectarian violence.

“In the days to come, I will further examine the classified intelligence information and consult with experts before deciding how I will vote on the final resolution when it is considered on the Senate floor,” he added.

Here’s a look at how each senator voted on the resolution:

AYES

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

NAYS

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

PRESENT

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

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