After a lengthy debate about amendments to an agreement authorizing the use of force in Syria, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent President Obama’s permission to the Senate floor this afternoon.
The vote was 10-7, with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) voting present.
Voting in favor of the agreement, tweaked by a pair of amendments after last night’s agreement between Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) by proxy, Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), as well as Corker and Menendez.
Voting against the authorization were Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
McCain and Coons were behind two successful amendments, one stating that the U.S. goal should be “to 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,” and the other stressing that Assad’s fall and a negotiated settlement are vital to security in the region.
Tabled on a 14-4 vote was a Paul sense-of-the-Senate amendment that called it unconstitutional for the president to authorize strikes where there is no “actual or imminent threat” to America.
Paul said after the vote that he’ll bring up the amendment before the full Senate. “It should be made explicit that the Constitution invested the power to go to war in Congress. Since the Administration refuses to say it will abide by this vote, win or lose, Congress should send a clear message,” he said.
On his “no” vote, Paul said, “By pre-announcing a limited attack, we pre-announce limited effect.”
Rubio gave a lengthy statement after the vote stressing that his “no” vote wasn’t against helping Syria.
“Those who argue that what happens in Syria is none of our business are wrong. And that is why I have, for over two years, urged the President to pursue a more robust engagement in the hopes of helping the Syrian people replace Assad with a stable, secular and moderate government,” he said.
“However, while I have long argued forcefully for engagement in empowering the Syrian people, I have never supported the use of U.S. military force in the conflict. And I still don’t,” Rubio continued. “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 U.S. military action of the type contemplated here might prove to be counterproductive.”
Rubio pushed the Syrian Transition Support Act, which earlier passed the committee 15-3 yet has waited for action in the full Senate. That would openly provide lethal support and increase non-lethal support to carefully and properly vetted elements of the opposition.
“Second, we would pursue severe sanctions against individuals and financial institutions that have provided or facilitated the sale or transfer of weapons, petroleum and/or petroleum products to Assad,” the senator said. “Third, we should create a transition fund that will assist with a transition to a moderate transitional government in Syria in the aftermath of Assad’s fall. And fourth, we should increase humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and to the countries that are hosting Syrian refugees.”
Murphy sent a message to his email list yesterday saying he remains “extremely skeptical” about intervention in Syria.
“The question isn’t whether or not chemical weapons use is unacceptable – of course it is – it’s whether or not we can make the situation in Syria better. And that is going to be my guiding principle during this conversation,” the Connecticut Democrat said.
“We should start by improving conditions in refugee camps and help other nations bear the burden of displaced persons,” Murphy added. “But I’ll allow the administration to present its evidence and make its case.”
Flake said he voted for the authorization because “as commander in chief, President Obama already has the authority to conduct a limited strike such as the one he has asked Congress to authorize.”
“I believe in a strong commander in chief who takes actions as warranted and stands by them, which is why I voted in favor of the resolution in committee,” the Arizona Republican added. “After reviewing both the classified and unclassified evidence, I am convinced that the Syrian regime did launch a chemical-weapons attack, and it is in our national interest that it faces the consequences.”