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Senate Delays Vote On Military Action In Syria

5:56 PM, Sep 9, 2013   |    comments
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Susan Davis, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delayed a procedural vote on military action in Syria Monday as a series of senators expressed their opposition.

The Senate was scheduled to vote Wednesday on a resolution that would authorize President Obama to launch military strikes against Syria, but Reid announced late Monday that he would delay that vote.

Reid said he believes he has the 60 votes necessary to limit debate and pass the resolution, but said he did not think the Senate should be in a rush.

The administration's efforts to sway Congress to support military airstrikes seemed suffered several setbacks Monday, raising serious doubts that the president will be able to muster the necessary support in either the House or Senate.

Three additional senators, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., announced their opposition Monday, eliminating three potentially critical votes for the administration.

The administration did receive one new vote in support from Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Just 24 senators are publicly in favor of President Obama's plan.

The GOP-led House is not likely to take up a resolution unless the Senate can pass it first.

Heitkamp is a Democrat from a conservative state, but she does not face re-election until 2018. She joins other Red State Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Joe Manchin of West Virginia in opposition to the resolution. Manchin announced his no vote last week, and Pryor over the weekend.

Additional Red State Democrats, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska, remain undecided. Both senators are up for re-election next year in states that Obama lost in the past two presidential elections.

"I still believe we need to have an open and honest discussion on the Senate floor about the potential use of force in Syria," Heitkamp said, noting she participated in classified briefings through last week, "However, after all these meetings, I still have serious concerns. I cannot support the current Senate resolution to authorize force at this time."

Alexander was a potential ally because he has a history of working across the aisle and the resolution is supported by his home state colleague, Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Briefings by top administration officials and a weekend conversation with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel were not enough to sway Alexander. "I see too much risk that the strike will do more harm than good by setting off a chain of consequences that could involve American fighting men and women in another long-term Middle East conflict," he said.

Further, Blunt is a member of the Senate GOP leadership team which often votes in lockstep on key issues, raising the possibility that the Senate GOP leadership team could oppose the resolution. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, has not made a final decision but is leaning against voting for the resolution, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not indicated how he will vote.

Together, their collective opposition underscored the uphill battle Obama faces on Capitol Hill to rally around his foreign policy agenda on Syria. The president will visit privately with Senate Democrats on Tuesday before his prime-time television address. He will also meet privately with Senate Republicans.

Reid, D-Nev., made an emotional plea on the Senate floor Monday morning in support of the resolution. "Today, many Americans say that these atrocities are none of our business, that they're not our concern. I disagree. Any time the powerful turn such weapons of terror and destruction against the powerless, it is our business," he said.

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