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September 5, 2013

Divided vote foreshadows Obama challenge on Syria

(Continued)

WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Chris Collins said voters in his western New York district are "overwhelmingly against involvement." The freshman congressman is undecided.

"Really, I'm looking for the president to justify limited military strike and establish what are the objectives he's seeking and what is the mission," Collins said in a phone interview.

Kerry told the Foreign Affairs Committee that he believed Obama would address the nation on Syria in the next few days. The president returns home from overseas Friday night.

Speaking in Sweden on Wednesday, Obama left open the possibility he would order retaliation for the deadly chemical weapons attack even if Congress withheld its approval.

"I always preserve the right and responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security," he told a news conference. In a challenge to lawmakers back home, he said Congress' credibility was on the line, not his own, despite saying a year ago that the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line."

The Senate panel's vote marked the first formal response in Congress, four days after Obama unexpectedly put off an anticipated cruise missile strike against Syria and instead asked lawmakers to unite behind such a plan.

The vote capped a hectic few days in which lawmakers first narrowed the scope of Obama's request and then widened it.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a proponent of aggressive U.S. military action in Syria, joined forces with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware to add a provision calling for "decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria."

At their urging, the measure was also changed to state that the policy of the United States was "to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria." McCain, who long has accused Obama of timidity in Syria, argued that Assad will be willing to participate in diplomatic negotiations only if he believes he is going to lose the civil war he has been fighting for more than two years.

 

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