Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has endorsed a Senate resolution calling for missile strikes on Syria. (Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has endorsed a congressional authorization for military strikes in Syria.
As Senate Foreign Relations Committee members worked behind closed doors and before media microphones on the language of the panel’s revised use-of-force measure, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., on Wednesday offered a boost to the Obama administration’s strike plan.
“I will support it,” Levin told reporters following a three-hour classified briefing on Syria with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
The Foreign Relations Committee had planned a late-morning mark-up of its force resolution, but delayed that session over some senators’ concerns. That delay caused some to wonder whether the Obama administration has the votes in the Senate — much less the GOP-controlled House — to pass a Syria resolution.
“I just don’t know,” Levin said, adding he thinks support from House GOP leaders Reps. John Boehner of Ohio and Eric Cantor of Virginia “will help.”
One prominent — and vocal — senator who is trying to alter the Senate panel’s resolution, which is an altered version of one written Saturday by the White House, is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
He told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he wants language added to the resolution that would reflect comments made in recent days by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“The president, when Sen. [Lindsey] Graham and I met with him in the White House, stated three [goals],” McCain said. “One was to degrade the chemical weapons delivery capabilities of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad. Two: Increase support for the Free Syrian Army and the forces that are fighting Assad. Three was changing battlefield momentum in favor of the Free Syrian Army.”
McCain wants language added to the Senate measure stating that is the goal of any US military strikes.
Asked if he has the support of Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., McCain said: “Well, we’re going to have a mark-up and votes.”
Earlier Wednesday, Menendez told Defense News he expects to vote on the measure at some time on Wednesday or for sure by week’s end.
McCain indicated he believes the panel will remain on that schedule despite his push for new language.
Senators from both parties trickled out of the Senate Armed Services Committee briefing with mostly unchanged opinions.
Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told reporters he thinks the Pentagon lacks the money even for a limited strike, and expressed concerns about the effects a missile strike would have.
When asked if he believes the administration has made a case worthy of war, Inhofe said: “I don’t think so.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a potential 2016 presidential nominee, said he still has “grave concerns.” Cruz questions whether strikes are in US national security interests, and is worried strikes might help al-Qaida elements that are among Assad opposition forces.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who also is the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, remains a “yes” vote. But he said “there are still questions” the administration has to answer.
Sen. Roy Blount of Missouri, a Senate GOP leadership member, did not take a stance on how he would vote next week on the chamber floor. But he did say the three-hour briefing “was not surprising in any way.”
“It just further verifies our intention here to send a message but not change the overall balance on the ground in Syria,” Blount said. He called that “a significant thing to evaluate, whether the message is worth maintaining the status quo in a place where over 100,000 people have died.”
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., signaled her support for the measure. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he’s still unconvinced that attacking Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal and other targets is a US national security matter.