What's the Rush?

Senate Breaks Own Rules in Rush to Vote on Syria War

Sen. Robert Menendez on Feb. 13. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Senate Democratic leadership tossed aside the rules for moving legislation with regard to the resolution authorizing the use of military force against Syria, angering some Republicans and creating confusion on Capitol Hill in the run-up to the war vote.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly approved a modified war resolution Wednesday afternoon by vote of 10–7 with one member, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), voting present. The committee's action allows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring the measure to the floor as early as Monday, following a break for the Jewish holidays. That would allow a vote by the full Senate as soon as Wednesday, giving the Senate a chance to pass a war resolution before the House has a chance to craft and pass a resolution of its own.

But some GOP Senate offices are upset with what they see as a rush by Democratic leadership to pass the war authorization outside the rules that govern how legislation goes through the committee process.

“This is a rush to war behind closed doors,” one senior GOP Senate aide said. “We were told there was a need to have a thoughtful and public debate about how this nation goes to war, but this seems to be about simply getting a resolution done to cover the president.”

According to Senate rules, hearings should be notified seven days in advance, business meetings should be notified at least three days in advance, and members should have 24 hours to consider legislative text before having to vote on it. A spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) pointed out that the chairman and ranking member of the committee have the discretion to call a business meeting earlier if they both agree.

"This has been an open process under a shortened timeline where senators' views from across the spectrum have been solicited and welcomed. With an agreement between the chairman and ranking member to proceed after hours of hearings, briefings, and meetings, the committee pursuant to the rules is proceeding with the business meeting," said spokesman Adam Sharon.

The committee had announced it would debate and vote at 11:30 Wednesday morning on a resolution to authorize Obama to strike Syria. The resolution, the result of a last-minute compromise between Menendez and committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN), was given to senators the previous evening. Amendments were due at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, before the classified briefing for members with Secretary of State John Kerry and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had ended.

The committee’s meeting was delayed after Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) wrote to Menendez requesting the Syria resolution be taken off the agenda. Johnson later withdrew that request, two Senate aides said. Around that time, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announced he could not support the resolution in its current form, endangering the resolution’s passage if it came up for a vote.

That set off two and a half hours of furious backroom negotiations before the hearing finally commenced just after 2 p.m. During those behind-the-scenes discussions, McCain and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) teamed up to craft an amendment that would add language stating the policy of the United States to pursue a reversal of the momentum on the ground in Syria as a means to encourage a political solution between the regime and the opposition.

Following the vote, there remained resentment among some Republican Senate offices who feel the leadership rushed the process to meet an arbitrary deadline.

“On an issue of this much importance you would hope the rules and procedures would be followed to ensure a full and robust debate,” the GOP senate aide said.