Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his support for military action in Syria late Saturday, also announcing that Senate hearings and briefings on the issue will be held the week of Labor Day.
A vote on a use of force resolution would take the place the following week, when the full Senate is scheduled to return from recess. Getting work done in a week could be difficult, however.
The Nevada Democrat said that Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would lead the effort to review President Barack Obama’s request for an authorization for use of military force against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons in that country. Menendez has lead jurisdiction, but Reid said the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees would also convene briefings in both classified and unclassified settings.
“Following the hearings and briefings, the full Senate will convene and debate a resolution authorizing the use of limited military force against Syria. The Senate will vote on the resolution no later than the week of September 9, as requested by the Obama administration,” Reid said. This will provide ample time for a robust public debate, while ensuring that this critical issue receives a vote in a timely fashion.”
Looking back at the debate over the Iraq military force authorization suggests that Reid’s timeline may be optimistic, however. Senate leaders were forced to file cloture to limit debate on the motion to proceed to that resolution (only then-Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., voted against that cloture motion). Since the Senate isn’t in session due to the August recess, Reid could need a number of days to work through procedural hurdles once the chamber returns.
In his first comments on the issue, Reid showed no skepticism about military intervention against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad:
Given the atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad against his own people, including the use of internationally prohibited chemical weapons and the murder of innocent children, it is time for Congress to debate and vote on whether Syria’s heinous actions should be met with a limited use of American military force.
I believe the use of military force against Syria is both justified and necessary. I believe the United States has a moral obligation as well as a national security interest in defending innocent lives against such atrocities, and in enforcing international norms such as the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons. Assad must be held accountable for his heinous acts, and the world looks to us for leadership.
But Menendez vowed to help push a resolution through.
“The Syrian regime and others like it must understand that red lines are indelible, that our foes should never question the resolve of the United States. We say what we mean, we mean what we say, and we don’t look away when undeniable war crimes are committed. I will work with the Senate leadership in support of an Authorization for Use of Military Force as expeditiously as possible,” Menendez said in a statement.
Many Democrats have seemed a bit more cautious in their statements in the aftermath of Obama’s Saturday afternoon Rose Garden speech, including Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat and a personal friend of the president’s.
“The President gave a powerful and historic speech this afternoon, challenging Congress and the American people to begin a debate about how to respond to the atrocities in Syria,” the Illinois Democrat said. “As we decide what, if anything, we will do as nation to respond, the President has called for a national conversation and for Congress to approve any use of force. That is the right first step.”
But Durbin isn’t convinced yet.
“If we can do something to discourage Assad and others like him from using chemical weapons without engaging in a war and without making a long-term military commitment of the United States, I’m open to that debate,” said Durbin, who also serves as the top Pentagon appropriator.
Earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a strong statement of her own backing the president.
“It is a pillar of America’s security that we must stop the use and proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons,” she said. “As the President stated today, military action in response to Assad’s reckless use of deadly gas that is limited in scope and duration, without boots on the ground, is in our national security interest and in furtherance of regional stability and global security.”
Before Reid’s announcement, some senators had pushed for the Senate to return immediately, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Susan Collins of Maine.
“Congress must be involved in this weighty decision, and I strongly agree with the President’s decision to seek congressional approval for this military action. In fact, I hope that the President will encourage the leaders of the Senate and the House to reconvene next week to begin further consideration of the Administration’s plan immediately,” Collins said. “In the meantime, I will continue to receive both classified and unclassified briefings to evaluate the wisdom and feasibility of the President’s plan and look forward to participating in the Senate debate.”