President Obama’s resolution to conducted military strikes in Syria has cleared its first hurdle, with the Senate Foreign Relations committee approving an amended version of the resolution today by a 10-7 vote.
The version passed by the committee, hammered out late yesterday by Sens. Robert Menendez and Bob Corker, would limit an American intervention in Syria to 90 days and prohibit any U.S. ground troops in the country. A full vote in the Senate is expected next week.
Two liberal Democrats—Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut—voted against the resolution. A third Democrat, newly-elected Ed Markey of Massachusetts, voted present.
The committee approved an amendment by John McCain, who's voiced concerns that the resolution isn't open-ended enough. The amendment didn't fundamentally alter the limits of the intervention, but stated that America's goal should be "a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria." This is in contrast to the Obama administration's statements that the goal of an intervention should be to prevent the use of chemical weapons, not regime change. The amendment also allowed for arming elements of the Syrian opposition, though the Obama administration announced its intent to do this months ago.
An amendment by Udall that would have prohibited American forces from entering Syrian airspace or waters was rejected, with McCain saying that "If we start down this road, we're going to be running the campaign from here, and as smart as we are, we're not that smart."
The resolution’s passage through the Senate proper is anything but guaranteed. Only 21 Senators have come out in support of the measure; 13 have openly opposed it, and 66 remain undecided, according a whip count by the BBC. Senator Rand Paul has flirted with the notion of filibustering the measure once it comes up for a full vote; Menendez, who chairs the committee, is optimistic that the resolution will overcome a filibuster and pass the full Senate.
"I think obviously we are going to have to get 60 votes at the end of the day," Menendez told Politico.
Even if the Senate does ultimately approve the resolution, it faces worse odds in the House of Representatives, although most senior House leadership has voiced support for the measure.
Obama announced last week that, following reports of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons on civilian populations, the U.S. would launch limited military strikes in the country pending congressional approval. This means that in theory, both houses of congress must pass the resolution before any strikes commence; however, Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the U.S. “has the right” to intervene militarily even if congress votes down the resolution.