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Reps. Chris Van Hollen, Gerry Connolly draft narrow authorization of force in Syria

The Washington Post's Aaron Blake breaks down the vote count in Congress for a military strike on Syria. (The Washington Post)

In an effort to address congressional qualms about the prospect of air strikes on Syria turning into a far broader, open-ended military operation, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) on Tuesday said they were drafting a resolution that would put sharp limits on the scope and authority that lawmakers would give President Obama to conduct the attack.

The two lawmakers said they were hoping to present their version of the resolution to colleagues as soon as late Tuesday.

It is far narrower than the language that the White House submitted to Congress on Saturday, and the two congressmen hope it will become part of the negotiations for an agreement on a new version of the resolution.

As proposed by Van Hollen and Connolly, the resolution would have four major components:

●A legally binding stipulation that no ground troops would be deployed.

After a meeting at the White House Tuesday, House Speaker John Boenher (R-Ohio) said he would support President Obama's "call for action" on Syria. (The Washington Post)

●A provision that would limit the president’s authority to a single round of strikes, unless Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government uses chemical weapons again.

●A relatively short time limit for the strikes, probably of less than 60 days.

●A provision that would narrowly define the goal of the operation to prevent further use of chemical weapons.

That fourth provision would, for instance, prevent Obama from using the authorization as part of a broader campaign to degrade the capability of the Syrian military or to prevent the Syrians from stockpiling chemical weapons.

Connolly said he and Van Hollen were hoping their version of the resolution would mesh easily with proposals currently being put together in the Senate.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said the Foreign Relations Committee is still working with Senate Democratic leadership on wording for a Senate version of a resolution.

In response to a question from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Menendez said the resolution is being rewritten “in a way that would allow them to have the maximum ability ot succeed in that action by the same token, tailor it sufficiently so that this is not an open-ended engagement and specifically not with American troops on the ground. We’re not there yet. It is our aspiration to try to get there before the end of the day and then to look forward to the possibility of a markup tomorrow. We’ll see if we can get there.”

Van Hollen and Connolly — colleagues going back to the 1980s, when they were both on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — were putting the finishing touches on their resolution as Obama’s prospects for winning congressional approval appeared to be strengthening. After a meeting with Obama at the White House on Tuesday morning, Republican and Democratic leaders of the House expressed strong support for Obama’s request for authorization to use force against Syria.

Connolly said their goal is to make sure that whatever passes Congress would be “narrowly drawn to meet the circumstances of the moment.” Those circumstances are the allegations that the Syrian government launched a devastating chemical weapons attack on its own citizens last month.

Democrats in particular are haunted by the resolution they passed in October 2002, authorizing President George W. Bush to launch an invasion against Iraq. The premise that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false, and the combat that followed lasted nearly nine years.

The Iraq experience is “sort of front and center in people’s minds,” Van Hollen said.

But while Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization for striking Syria gives lawmakers a say in what the operation would look like, some are worried that it could also set a precedent if Congress moves too aggressively in restricting the authority of the commander-in-chief.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

Karen Tumulty is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where she received the 2013 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.


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