No Simple Majority

Syria War Resolution Will Require 60 Votes in Senate

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senate leadership will ultimately need to muster 60 votes to pass the resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria, as the measure will be treated like any other resolution and will also be subject to a potential filibuster.

Some reports have speculated that under the War Powers Act, the Syria war resolution could be brought to the Senate floor under special circumstances with only limited debate and requiring only a simple majority to pass. But Senate leadership has decided to treat the Syria war authorization, approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 10–7 Wednesday afternoon, like any other joint resolution. This means that it will be subject to a cloture motion, which requires 60 votes to pass, except in the unlikely event that all 100 senators give unanimous consent to move directly to a final vote.

“This joint resolution will be treated like any other joint resolution,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide tells The Daily Beast. “That means we’ll have to move to proceed to the measure, and without consent it could face a 60-vote cloture vote on the motion to proceed.”

Final passage of the resolution will require only 50 votes, as with all legislation, but to get to the final vote, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will have to corral 60 senators. Democrats currently have a 54–46 majority in the Senate. Three Republicans: Bob Corker (R-TN), John McCain (R-AZ), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voted for the measure Wednesday in committee while two Democrats, Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tom Udall (D-NM), voted against. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) voted present.

“We’ll begin moving to this measure on Monday,” the leadership aide said. “Once on the bill we’ll debate it for as long as necessary before calling a final vote—or filing cloture to force a final vote."

Senators from both parties had already predicted that the authorization to use force in Syria would require a cloture vote.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said Wednesday that 60 votes would be needed for the Senate to approve the war authorization.

“I think obviously we are going to have to get 60 votes at the end of the day, that in and of itself is a very significant bipartisan effort—and the bipartisan effort we’ve been working on in the committee I think will lead us to a bipartisan vote and we’ll move on to the full Senate,” he said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), an opponent of military action in Syria, said Wednesday he intends to push for a 60-vote threshold but has not decided if he will mount a talking filibuster to delay the measure, like the nearly 13-hour filibuster that the Kentucky senator mounted in March when the Senate considered the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

"I can't imagine that we won't require 60 votes on this," Paul said in a conference call with reporters. "Whether there's an actual standing filibuster, I've got to check my shoes."