The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution Wednesday granting President Obama limited authority to conduct military strikes on Syria, after nearly an hour of wrestling over the details of war planning and trying to make sure the conflict doesn’t spiral out of control.
The measure squeaked through on a bipartisan 10-7 vote that helps build momentum for Mr. Obama, though bigger hurdles lie ahead with a full Senate vote and similar action in the House, where one lawmaker said there are not currently enough votes to act.
Mr. Obama’s spokesman hailed the vote as a key milestone.
“We believe America is stronger when the president and Congress work together,” said press secretary Jay Carney, adding that the administration accepts the version senators wrote, even though it’s much more limited than the draft Mr. Obama himself had proposed this weekend.
“We will continue to work with Congress to build on this bipartisan support for a military response that is narrowly tailored to enforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and sufficient to protect the national security interests of the United States of America,” Mr. Carney said.
Three Republicans joined seven Democrats in backing the measure, while two Democrats opposed it along with five other Republicans, signaling how deeply the questions split both parties.
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Senators will bring the resolution to the Senate floor next week.
The resolution still prohibits “combat troops” from being deployed, but analysts said that still leaves open room for other American troops to be used in Syria, either as special forces or search and rescue missions.
An effort by Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, to specifically limit attacks to naval or air power outside Syria was defeated overwhelmingly.
“We start down this road, we are going to be running the campaign from here, and as smart as we are, I don’t think we are that smart,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and former Navy pilot, who led opposition to the Udall amendment.
Still, senators said they wanted there to be no mixed signals and said they don’t want to see American troops committed to the fight in Syria.
Mr. Udall, who voted against the final resolution, said he was worried about the potential for the U.S. to be drawn into the broader conflict once it begins to take any role.
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“Vietnam started with U.S. advisors and a limited naval presence. It led to an all-out war,” he said, saying the U.S. hasn’t yet exhausted other diplomatic avenues and that there’s no evidence the administration’s plan would stop future chemical weapons use.
Sen. Christopher Murphy, the other Democrat who voted against the resolution, said he worried about the resolution’s language pushing the U.S. to arm Syrian rebels. He said he feared that inextricably tied the U.S. to one side in the conflict — a tie he said could be the way the U.S. gets drawn into the full war.
“I worry we have now committed ourselves to a level of support that will have to endure after the fall of Bashar al-Assad,” he said.
Across the Capitol, top administration officials were making their case for strikes to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where they faced an even broader range of opinions, from those who wanted a deeper U.S. involvement to those skeptical that any action will work.
Rep. Steve Stockman, who is on the committee but was traveling oversees in the Middle East, released a statement saying that as of now, the administration still lacks the votes to win approval in the House, and saying he expects the lobbying to grow more intense over the next week.
“As it stands currently, President Obama does not have the votes to approve military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” he said.