White House open to changing draft language on Syria

A senior administration official said Monday that the White House was "open to working with Congress" on changes to language proposed for the authorization to use military force in Syria, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle suggested changes were necessary to garner their votes.

The concession comes one day after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) indicated that he planned to rewrite and narrow the president's request, which gives Obama permission to use “necessary and appropriate” force.

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"The president made clear that he was not contemplating U.S. boots on the ground or an open-ended intervention, and that he intends to undertake tailored military operations, limited in scope and duration," the official said. "We are open to working with Congress on language for the [authorization] within the parameters the president has explained."

White House officials fully expected that the draft language submitted Saturday night would get twisted and tweaked through the legislative process, but the challenge in the coming days will be striking a balance that can win 217 House members and 60 senators.

Already, many influential Democrats reluctant to support military intervention have called for Congress to limit the scope of the resolution.

In addition to Leahy, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has blasted the White House's proposed resolution as "too broadly drafted" and a "partial blank check."

Van Hollen also complained that the resolution did not explicitly rule out boots on the ground, despite the president's public assurances.

"The draft resolution presented by the administration does not currently meet that test," the ranking member of the House Budget Committee said, according to USA Today. "It is too broadly drafted, it's too open ended."

Swing votes are also likely to insist that final language includes a deadline for the completion of military action, as well as an estimation of the mission's cost.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday that the discussion over Syria would be a "great time" to also address the sequester's effect on the Pentagon budget.

"I think it's important that we fix and give them certainty, give our military leaders the ability to plan so that when they get called to perform missions like this, they'll be there and be prepared," he told CNN.

But even as some in Congress hope to limit the size and scope of military action in Syria, other top lawmakers are pushing for Obama to adopt a more comprehensive strategy.

At the White House on Monday, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that President Obama had started to win them over with what they described as a comprehensive plan to use military action to strengthen the Syrian opposition while weakening the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The pair hinted Obama could be seeking more ambitious action than the brief bombing campaign reportedly under consideration last week, with McCain saying he did not think "it was an accident" that an American aircraft carrier group had been rerouted to the Red Sea.

"For the first time, I understand what happens after the smoke clears," Graham said, adding that Obama presented them with a "pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition."

The challenge for the White House will be stitching together a coalition of Congress's factions — especially with many groups seeking seemingly contradictory goals in Syria policy. The president also faces a stiff challenge selling a war-weary public on a strike, with Americans opposing military action 50 percent to 42 percent, according to an NBC News poll released Friday.

"I think they're going to have to work very hard," McCain said. "Americans are skeptical. We've gone for two-and-a-half years without helping these people. Obviously people are weary after Iraq and Afghanistan."

The president will continue that effort Tuesday at the White House, beginning his morning with a meeting of the chairs and ranking members of important House and Senate committees at the White House. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are slated to appear on Capitol Hill Tuesday for the first public testimony on the proposed legislation.