Published December 20, 2015
President Obama cleared his first hurdle on Wednesday in his push for a military strike in Syria, as a key Senate panel voted to authorize the use of force.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7, with one senator voting present, to approve a military strike in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack last month.
The Senate now plans to return early from recess and meet Friday to file the resolution, setting up a key test vote in the full chamber as early as next Wednesday.
The Wednesday vote came after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., raised objections to an earlier draft. The objections forced lawmakers to renegotiate the measure; McCain ultimately won tougher language clarifying that U.S. policy would be aimed at changing the momentum on the ground.He was among the 10 who voted for the final resolution, after getting two amendments added.
"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," McCain said in a statement afterward. "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."
The resolution specifically would permit Obama to order a limited military mission against Syria, as long as it doesn't exceed 90 days and involves no American troops on the ground for combat operations. The Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, and the panel's top Republican, Sen. Bob Corker, crafted the resolution.
The vote was nevertheless close. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who voted against the measure, said he remains "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," he said.
The vote marked the first time lawmakers have voted to authorize military action since the October 2002 votes giving President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq.
The White House later issued a statement commending the Senate "for moving swiftly and across Senate lines."
But the tougher climb for the Obama administration may be on the House side, where it's still unclear whether a coalition exists to pass such a resolution.
A testy House committee hearing Wednesday on Obama's request for authorization showed deep divisions in that chamber over the question of getting more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle questioned whether a "limited" military strike could pull the U.S. into some additional military intervention.
Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials warn that if the U.S. does not respond to the chemical weapons strike, it would embolden America's enemies to use chemical weapons and pursue other weapons of mass destruction.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.