Congress Tussles Over Syrian War Authorization, Passage Uncertain

It’s entirely possible that Congress won’t authorize President Obama’s resolution to launch military strikes in Syria, but that isn’t stopping leadership of both parties from trying to hammer out a deal.

Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Bob Corker, leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agreed on an amended version of Obama's resolution late Tuesday that would limit American involvement in Syria to 60 days with one possible 30-day extension (so 90 days, really) and prohibit any American troops on the ground. It’s always encouraging when anything bipartisan gets done in the Senate, but the amended resolution is far from assured passage through even just the committee, let alone the Senate as a whole.

Meanwhile, senior House leadership in both parties, including Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have pledged support for the resolution. Nancy Pelosi has been gently but passionately lobbying House Democrats to approve the resolution, and Democratic leadership released an amended version of the resolution that mirrors the Senate version.

At the same time, at least 30 House Republicans have gone on record opposing American intervention in Syria, while only four have voiced support. House Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy is undecided on the prospect of intervention, and very few Republicans in the Senate have openly supported the measure (the exceptions being John McCain, who was convinced during today’s Senate hearing, and Lindsey Graham, who generally follows McCain in most of what he does).

There are a couple of factions in congress regarding the prospect of war in Syria. On the pro-war side, you’ve got both neoconservative Republicans, who basically salivate at the prospect of American interventions anywhere, and some human rights-focused Democrats, who support military interventions in the name of humanitarian causes. On the anti-war side, you’ve got both libertarian isolationist Republicans and pacifist Democrats, both of whom oppose most forms of American military intervention.

Of course, even though Obama said he wouldn't act without congressional authorization, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the administration "has the right" to strike regardless of what the House and Senate do. Still, it would certainly be in Obama's interest for Congress to pass even an amended version of the resolution he sent them, and at this stage, it's not at all certain that will happen.