Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey arrive at the Russell Senate Office Building to testify on the situation in Syria in a closed hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.(Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
Written by: Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize President Obama to use limited force against Syria Wednesday, after adopting amendments from Sen. John McCain designed to "change the military equation on the battlefield."
The Senate resolution would limit hostilities to 60 or 90 days, narrow the conflict to Syria's borders and prohibit U.S. troops on Syrian soil. McCain's amendments didn't change that scope, but made clear that the end goal should be "a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria."
The vote was 10-7.
The committee's consensus followed closed-door meetings Wednesday morning, which delayed the start of the committee's meeting by nearly three hours.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted no, and unsuccessfully sought an amendment that would reaffirm Congress's preeminent role in declaring war, as reflected in the 1973 War Powers Act. "The constitution doesn't really differentiate between big wars and small wars," he said. The committee left the constitutional issue unresolved, tabling Paul's amendment by a 14-5 vote.
Paul remains a staunch opponent of an attack on Syria, but said any suggestion that he would filibuster the resolution was "a misinterpretation by the media."
The committee also rejected an amendment by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., that would have prohibited air and naval forces from being put into Syrian waters or air space. In the end, Udall was the only one to support it. "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," McCain said.
McCain's amendment was co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who emphasized that the language would not change the scope of the authority Congress was giving the president, but would help frame the policy behind it. The committee approved those amendments by a voice vote.
Administration officials have been arguing to Congress that "regime change" would not be the goal of U.S. military operations in Syria.
McCain is considered a critical vote on the Syria resolution, so much so that President Obama met privately Monday with McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to discuss the administration's broader strategy in Syria.
A full Senate vote is the next step. That is expected to happen next week.