Split Senate panel votes for attack
By Lynn Sweet Washington Bureau Chief September 4, 2013 7:32PM
Updated: October 7, 2013 12:47PM
WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday advanced a measure to give President Barack Obama limited authorization to attack Syria, while over at a House hearing, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) offered a passionate case for approving a military strike.
Obama picked up the Senate committee win on a 10-7 vote, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) casting a yes vote. The roll call followed pretty much party lines: Of the 10 yes, eight were Democrats, including Durbin. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is pushing for broader authorization, also was a yes vote.
Of the seven no votes, five were Republicans, including 2016 potential presidential hopefuls Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). One Democrat voted “present.”
While undecided so far, Durbin, who voted against the Iraq war in 2002, is moving toward giving Obama approval to launch a U.S. strike, with the committee adopting several Durbin amendments tightening the resolution to narrowly define the military mission.
After the vote, Durbin said in a statement, “I hope that the message comes through from this committee meeting, and from the Floor in the Senate and the House, that this Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are resolute when it comes to discouraging and stopping the spread of chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction. If the United States did not take this leadership role, I do not know who would.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who previously said he would back Obama on Syria — unless the wording of the resolution was too broad — said in a tweet after the committee vote: “Syria resolution authorizes limited action w/ NO boots on ground; w/ #Iran watching, I will join @SenatorDurbin in supporting it.”
However, while Obama seems in good shape in the Senate, there could be some glitches. I take it that Durbin is not coming out as a yes yet on the final resolution because it could be altered on the Senate floor.
And then there is the matter (not much discussed so far) of whether the resolution needs 51 votes — a simple majority, which Obama will be able to get on Syria — or a filibuster-proof 60 votes, which will be harder for Obama to muster.
One senator has the power to threaten a filibuster and trigger the 60-vote threshold. So that means a wild card such as Paul has leverage.
The full Senate will debate Syria next week. The House is moving a bit slower.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a Syria hearing on Wednesday with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Charles Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reprising the roles they played Tuesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Kinzinger — who in time I could see running statewide in Illinois — told me on Monday he would support Obama.
A member of the Foreign Affairs panel, Kinzinger is a pilot who is a major in the Air National Guard. He scolded his colleagues for the condition often called “analysis paralysis” — and Obama for not being able to rally an “international coalition” on Syria.
“In fact, in listening to some of my colleagues, it’s been amazing to me that we are seeming to paralyze ourselves into inaction, running through every potential scenario that could occur in this. And it makes me wonder, God help us if we become a country that can’t do the right thing because we paralyze ourselves to inaction,” Kinzinger said.
And with that, Kinzinger held up a picture of Syrians who were injured by the chemical warfare attack on Aug. 21.
Imploring his colleagues to not stand by in the wake of the atrocity, Kinzinger said with much passion: “What I’ve got here is a picture that I think everybody needs to see. This is a picture of Syrian children, many of which, the secretary said earlier about 400-some, died in at least just this one chemical gas attack. And if we don’t do anything about this, you can ensure that maybe even the kids in this picture or definitely other kids will die from the same attack.”
And with that, Kerry handed the Illinois Republican a compliment that could one day be in a political spot. Said Kerry, “I would just urge everybody to listen carefully to Congressman Kinzinger.”