Senate Churns Into High Gear on Syria

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution on Thursday morning that condemns the Assad regime for launching the grisly strike. The resolution was introduced just one day prior by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Bob Corker (R-TN). While not advocating for direct US military intervention, the measure calls on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to “take immediate, decisive action in response to the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical weapons.”

Based on Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) request, the committee amended the resolution to also criticize China for its previous backing of Syria at the UNSC (President Donald Trump will be meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this weekend in Florida for the first time). Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the more independent-minded Republicans on foreign policy, declined to vote in favor of the resolution and recorded his vote as present. The Kentucky lawmaker has urged for explicit language in the resolution that would not facilitate a military intervention.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) asserted that “Bashar Assad must ultimately go” needs to be a core element of US policy in the region. When pressed how he would tangibly accelerate the Syrian President’s removal, Cotton suggested the US and its allies establish “unsafe zones for Bashar Assad and his forces in addition to bringing more pressure to bear on Iran and Russia.”

In the most far-reaching proposal, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) urged the Trump administration to ground Syria’s air force, a dramatic step that would significantly increase America’s footprint in the country while Washington concurrently conducts air strikes against the Islamic State. Speaking on Fox News Thursday afternoon, McCain, who also serves as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, urged a US policy of “cratering your (Syrian regime’s) runways with cruise missiles. But, you can’t fly. We are not going to let you drop nerve gas… We can stop it easily and his (Assad) ability to slaughter people… Aren’t we growing a little tired of seeing pictures of dead children?”

However, Graham and McCain have faced opposition from Paul who shared a 2013 Tweet by Trump: “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.” The anti-interventionist lawmaker noted that Trump’s statement “remains true today as it was in 2013: both parts.”

At the same time, leading Senate Democrats Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) have warned the President about proceeding with a military response in Syria without first receiving approval from Congress, as former President Barack Obama requested in 2013 after Assad previously used chemical weapons against its own people.

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