The Senate Foreign Relations panel on Wednesday approved a resolution authorizing President Obama to employ a military strike against Syria, though it narrowed the scope of that authority from what the White House proposed.
Senators voted 10 to 7, with one lawmaker voting present, to authorize the resolution, which is expected on the floor for a vote the week of Sept. 9. The resolution limits authorization for the use of force to 60 days and it prohibits the use of troops on the ground in Syria, where a deadly civil war rages.
But it grants congressional permission for President Obama to conduct an air strike against Syria's Bashar Assad, who administration officials say used chemical weapons to kill its citizens in an Aug. 21 attack outside of Damascus.
"Failing to take action against Assad's regime and their use of chemical weapons poses a real threat to our national security interests," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. "I do believe we have to act to deter the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction."
Shaheen, who won her senate seat in part by campaigning against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was joined by most Democrats on the panel in backing the measure.
The White House praised the move, saying it would uphold the nation's security interests. "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," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
But opposition to the resolution remains among both Republicans and Democrats.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., voted against it, along with Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., voted "present."
On the Republican side, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Risch of Idaho and John Barrasso of Wyoming, voted no.
Most Democrats on the panel were willing to overlook their anti-war stance in order to back the president, who boxed himself in politically by calling for a strike overwhelmingly opposed by the public.
"The president is my friend," Sen. Dick Durbin, the majority leader and Illinois Democrat, said after voting for the resolution. "I take very seriously the president's promise that we will not be putting boots on the ground in Syria."
The prospects for a resolution passing in the House are less certain, with opposition building among a large faction of Republicans, many of them rooted in Tea Party politics, as well as from anti-war liberals.
Two Democrats, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, have authored a resolution similar to the Senate's, which limits authorization to 60 days and prohibits a ground war involving the United States. But there has been no promise by the Republican leadership to take up the measure.
As the Senate passed its resolution, the House panel simultaneously held a hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey.
The three faced skeptical lawmakers, who sought to determine the scope and cost of a military strike as well as who would pay for it.
Hagel said a strike would cost "ten of millions of dollars," that Kerry asserted that neighboring Arab countries are willing to cover.
"That offer is on the table," Kerry said.
Kerry during much of the hearing repeated promises that there would be no use of ground troops, backtracking on a statement he made Tuesday in which he resisted proposed congressional restrictions on the broad use of the military in Syria.
Kerry said the United States was obligated to uphold the chemical weapons ban, which he noted provides protection for American troops. Not acting, he said, would also make it harder for the United States to have influence over the opposition forces in Syria, some of whom are tied to al Qaeda.
"The president is asking permission to take a limited military action," Kerry promised. No boots will be on the ground. To not vote for it is to guarantee a continuation of this kind of struggle that will encourage extremists. "
But his testimony did little to convince many of more junior Republicans who were elected by libertarian-leaning voters to hold down the debt, reduce government spending and uphold the constitution.
"I view this as unconstitutional to attack a country that did not attack us," Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla. told Kerry.
Before the Senate vote, lawmakers tabled an amendment authored by Paul, who opposes the strike, which would have prevented the president from authorizing a military attack if there is no imminent risk to the nation.
Panel Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Paul's provision was too far outside the scope of the authorizing measure, but Paul disagreed.
"This is a very good time to debate this," Paul argued before his amendment was defeated. "The nation is asking us what we believe in with regard to what congresses role is. If congress wants to stand up and take back power that is gravitating the wrong way, this is exactly the time to do it."