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August 30, 2015

Senate Hits Pause Button on Syria Response

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As developments in Syria moved faster than the Senate’s slow-moving schedule, senators from both parties called for a pause in the chamber’s action on authorizing the use of force against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., went so far as to suggest that open discussions about revising the use of force resolution that he helped draft as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee might be counterproductive — at least until there’s a chance to assess the credibility of reports that Syria has agreed to give up its chemical weapons.

“My thoughts are we hit the pause button until we see whether … there’s any credibility to this offer. My guess is that, you know, that I don’t have a lot of faith in the Russians personally, but I think on the other hand, apparently at the G-20 meeting there was a side meeting at the end … the president had in the hand the fact that the Foreign Relations Committee had voted out the authorization for the use of force,” Corker said.

“I see no reason to have our hair on fire running out for some other solution at present. I think it’s best for a short period of time to understand the credibility of this offer,” Corker said.

Corker added that in his view, discussions about how to revise the Foreign Relations Committee’s use of force resolution are talks that senators “shouldn’t be having publicly.”

“I think he would like some time, with the authorization on the table … to determine whether this offer is credible or not,” Corker said. “It took us about four or five hours to write the last authorization. It’s not like it’s rocket science writing these things. I think we can produce one in ample time.”

President Barack Obama was on Capitol Hill Tuesday meeting with Senate Republicans and Democrats. He urged lawmakers to have patience, according to senators in attendance.

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters after the Democratic lunch meeting with Obama that he didn’t realistically foresee any floor action related to Syria until next week, at the earliest.

“What he has basically asked is for some time to work this out,” Durbin said of Obama.

Armed Services ranking member James M. Inhofe said Obama told Republicans to “hang loose” for a bit to allow time for the diplomatic action to run its course.

The Oklahoma Republican said that Obama essentially told them that he would respect lawmakers who took a different position from him who had really made up their minds, but said he didn’t want to see senators chasing after the poll numbers, some of which have been lopsided against the intervention.

“The president said that we should explore all options, and now that we’ve got international partners that were not cooperative before like Russia, who are willing to step in and to play a, hopefully, a constructive role, that we ought to let that play out,” said North Carolina Republican Richard M. Burr. “There’s a finite amount of time before we conclude there’s something beneficial there or not.”

“There is hope, but not yet trust in what the Russians are doing, but I think there’s a general view — whether people are for it or against it — there’s an overwhelming view it would preferable if international law and a family of nations could strip Syria of the chemical weapons, and there’s a large view we should let that process play out for a little while,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.

Schumer, the No. 3 Democratic leader, is among those working on alternative language that would hinge on the international community taking control of the Syrian weapons stockpiles. Senators in that group were meeting to discuss the matter Tuesday afternoon. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he had spoken with members of his own party, as well as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about the issue.

In addition to that “gang” of eight or nine senators, other lawmakers, including New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, floated new language for a resolution.

This all follows an earlier proposal drafted by Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. During a joint appearance  with Heitkamp on MSNBC, Manchin said the two senators looked forward to further conversations about alternatives to the Foreign Relations Committee resolution.

“We don’t have pride of authorship or pride of ownership here. We do have the pride of this great country and we believe diplomacy will work on a first basis than a war strike or an imminent strike,” Manchin said.

Sen. Rand Paul, among the most vocal skeptics of military action against Syria, predicted the group could water-down the Foreign Relations Committee resolution in a bid to get more votes, should a vote ever happen.

“If they’re working on a new resolution … it means that they’re pretty concerned that the old one won’t pass,” the Kentucky Republican said.

The Senate’s top Democrat wants to make sure that the action by the governments in Russia and Syria are more than stall tactics, however.

“It’s really important to remember that Syria has an extremely, extremely low level of credibility,” Reid said. “[Assad] has denied even having these poisonous gases, these chemical weapons. So for such a diplomatic solution to be possible, the Assad regime must act and act quickly to prove their offer is real and not merely a ploy to delay military action or the action of the Senate.”

The delay on Syria action might actually create an opening in the floor schedule for another of Shaheen’s legislative priorities, a long-delayed energy efficiency bill that she drafted with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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