A day after hearing testimony in support of military action in Syria, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved its draft resolution of authorization in a split partisan vote on Wednesday. For an administration that's shown complete confidence that a resolution will pass Congress, it was likely both a relief and somewhat alarming.
Within hours of the conclusion of testimony from the secretaries of Defense and State on Tuesday, the committee released a document approving the use of military resources by the president that largely maintained President Obama's original suggestions. The latest vote from the committee moved a version of Senate's document to the full body for a vote.
As has increasingly been the case on national security issues, the vote did not break down along party lines. Two Democrats — Tom Udall of New Mexico and Connecticut's Chris Murphy — voted against the measure. Three Republicans voted for it, including John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and minority chair Bob Corker of Tennessee, who helped draft the document. The graph at right shows the split, with darker colors indicating support. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Democrat and America's newest senator, voted "present."
McCain's support was uncertain earlier in the day. The senior senator has consistently demanded a stronger response to the August chemical weapon attack that has spurred the current effort by the president. The New York Times describes the amendment McCain offered that ended up being included in what passed.
The McCain-Coons language noted “absent decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria, sufficient incentives do not yet exist” to force a political settlement of the Syrian civil war. It also reiterated that “it is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria,” urging “a comprehensive U.S. strategy” to not only degrade the regime’s weapons of mass destruction but also to upgrade the military capabilities of “elements of the Syrian opposition.”
Since the president first declared that he would seek a Congressional vote on Saturday, the administration has insisted that Capitol Hill would sign off on action. On Tuesday evening, National Security Adviser Susan Rice stated that it had "no expectation of losing the vote."
The committee vote is unlikely to shake that confidence, for now. One of the Republicans who opposed the draft resolution was Rand Paul of Kentucky, who earlier threatened to filibuster the measure when it got to the full Senate. But the support of McCain could help bolster support among other Senate Republicans like Lindsey Graham, even as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell holds his opinion in reserve. Udall, one of the Democrats that the administration lost, has been a vocal critic of the administration on its NSA surveillance efforts and had previously expressed his opposition to action.
When the full Senate considers the issue next week, the resolution is likely to be amended further. But that will still be the easy vote. The House, as always, threatens to be a much bigger hurdle for Obama's plans.