Senate eyes narrow, limited mission in Syria

Updated
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Associated Press

Just 24 hours ago, congressional support for a resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria was very much in doubt. As of this morning, however, the Obama administration’s efforts to persuade lawmakers appear to be paying dividends.

In the Senate, as Aliyah Frumin reported last night, the White House’s proposed resolution has been replaced with a bipartisan alternative addressing some of the concerns that dominated yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Facing down skeptical questioning by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Obama administration may have won the support it sought for a limited strike on Syria.

Late Tuesday, NBC News obtained a draft of a new bipartisan Syria resolution by Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Member Bob Corker. The draft approves the use of military force in Syria, and sets a 60-day deadline, allowing for one 30-day extension. It prohibits the use of ground forces.

A committee vote on the measure may come as early as today, though a vote in the full Senate won’t come until next week at the earliest, when Congress returns to session. The measure reportedly already has the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Capitol Hill sources tell me that passage is likely barring unexpected developments.

The measure would then, of course, go to the House, where the political landscape is far more complicated – and success far less assured.

In theory, the White House received the news it wanted to hear yesterday when the Speaker of the House, House Majority Leader, House Minority Leader, and House Minority Whip all endorsed giving President Obama the authority to use military force in Syria. Ordinarily, when these four lawmakers – the top two Republicans and the top two Democrats – agree on a controversial measure, it passes.

But not always. Rank-and-file House Republicans are, at least for now, not on board.

Several lawmakers and aides who have been canvassing support say that nearly 80 percent of the House Republican Conference is, to some degree, opposed to launching strikes in Syria. Informal counts by Obama allies show that support in Congress for Obama’s plans is in the low dozens.

While a handful of lawmakers pledged support for striking Syria inside a White House meeting with Obama Tuesday, the hell-no caucus in the House gathered steam outside, portending a vicious, multi-factional fight over the most somber issue that ever faces Washington – whether to deploy military force. In the House, neither Republican nor Democratic leaders are in a position to speak for their rank-and-file. Several lawmakers and senior aides interviewed by POLITICO Tuesday wondered about the fallout for leadership if the resolution is resoundingly defeated.

House Democrats, meanwhile, also remain skeptical, and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) announced that they too are working on their own resolution, which is largely in line with the bipartisan measure in the Senate, but which would also limit the president’s authority to a single round of strikes, unless Assad uses chemical weapons again, and which would narrowly define the goal of the operation to prevent further use of chemical weapons.l

Foreign Policy and Syria

Senate eyes narrow, limited mission in Syria

Updated