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New House and Senate measures limit scope of Syria strike in effort to win votes

US Syria
From right to left, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking member, Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., listen to testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a hearing on President Barack Obama's request for congressional authorization for military intervention in Syria, a response to last month's alleged sarin gas attack in the Syrian civil war, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Lawmakers in the House and Senate hope that a more narrowly drawn war resolution, one that imposes limits on any U.S. military action against Syria, will help win over dozens of Republicans and Democrats now inclined to oppose the measure.


Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., authored legislation that would prohibit the use of U.S. military troops on the ground in Syria and would put a 60-day time limit on the president’s ability to use force against President Bashar Assad’s regime.


The two lawmakers drafted the proposal after Democrats on Tuesday objected to a much broader proposal from the Obama administration that placed fewer restrictions on the president.


"We believe that the draft resolution presented by the Obama Administration is far too broad and could open the door to large scale military involvement in Syria and the region," Van Hollen and Connolly said in a letter to House lawmakers. "We are proposing an alternative which is far more limited in scope, duration, and purpose."


Across the Capitol, Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chair and ranking member respectively of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Tuesday night that they drafted a separate but similar resolution on Syria that would allow only "limited and tailored use" of U.S. military force against Assad’s regime, which used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of its own citizens.


Like the House proposal, the Menendez-Corker measure would ban the use of ground troops and place a 60-day limit on any action.


"Together we have pursued a course of action that gives the president the authority he needs to deploy force in response to the Assad regime’s criminal use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, while assuring that the authorization is narrow and focused, limited in time, and assures that the Armed Forces of the United States will not be deployed for combat operations in Syria," Menendez said.


Obama’s fellow Democrats may be the key to Congress authorizing the strike that he insists is necessary to deter future atrocities across the globe. That’s particularly true in the House, where a large faction of conservative Republicans vowed to oppose military action because of its cost and potential consequences.


Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., represents a similar, but smaller, faction of Republicans in the Senate and he said Tuesday that he may filibuster any authorizing resolutions.


The House requires 217 votes for passage. The Senate is likely to require 60 votes as it often does on contentious legislation.

"I can't imagine we won't require 60 votes on this," Paul said Tuesday. "Whether there is an actual standing filibuster, I need to check my shoes. I haven't made a decision on that."


Paul will likely be joined in opposition by his fellow Tea Party senators, including Mike Lee, R-Utah, who aides say is leaning against supporting authorization.


The dual House-Senate proposals were released after Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials testified at a lengthy hearing before the Foreign Relations panel.


Menendez, Corker and other lawmakers challenged Kerry in that hearing after the secretary said he could not completely rule out the possibility that U.S. troops may be used in Syria. Kerry later said he was just “thinking out loud” and that the president would not commit troops.


"While we all feel the actions by the Assad regime are reprehensible," Corker told Kerry at the hearing, "I don't think there are any of us here that are willing to support the possibility of having combat boots on the ground."


Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced their support for authorization, which some lawmakers say will help attract votes, despite opposition from both the Tea Party Right and the anti-war, liberal Left.


"There is a broad middle in the House and Senate that is open to a response," Connolly told the Washington Examiner. "And that broad middle is significant enough in numbers to pass a resolution if it is carefully crafted and tightly construed."


Even Paul admitted it was becoming less likely he could block the authorization measure, in part because many of the 200 House Democrats fear they’ll face political disaster if they don't back the president.


"Our best chance for defeat will be in the House," Paul said. "The only problem here is because it is so high profile, Democrats will vote party politics over their conscience."