McCain wants to expand Obama's battlefield authority

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an influential Senate voice on national security matters, will offer an amendment to the Syria use-of-force resolution that would significantly expand President Obama’s authority to strike at Syrian President Bashar Assad.

McCain wants to give Obama authority to launch a military intervention aggressive enough to degrade Assad’s ability to trigger chemical weapons and “change battlefield momentum” drastically enough to ensure Assad’s departure from power.

“I believe it would be very important that provisions concerning that, which is the president’s stated policy, be included in this legislation in some form,” said McCain. “So we are negotiating and discussing how that will happen.”

The dispute over policy delayed a Senate Foreign Relations Committee mark up of the use-of-force resolution that was scheduled to begin at 11:30 am. It has been postponed until this afternoon.

“If Bashar Assad remains in an advantageous position, he will never leave Syria. He has to know that he is losing and that way you get a negotiated settlement for his departure,” McCain said. “The president has said Bashar Assad must go so our policy has to be to implement what the president of the United States has said.

"The language is reverse the battlefield momentum," McCain said of his amendment. 

Members of the Foreign Relations Committee, including McCain, spent more than three hours in a classified briefing in the Capitol Visitor Center debating the use-of-force language.

Secretary of State John Kerry attended the meeting but left about 45 minutes before it broke up. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also attended the session.

McCain on Wednesday morning he would not support the use-of-force resolution “in its current form.”

He expressed concern the resolution goes too far in restricting the president's authority.

"I can't support something that may be doomed to failure in the long run,” McCain said Wednesday on "The Today Show."

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said McCain will have a chance to offer an amendment in the afternoon markup. 

He expressed confidence that the underlying resolution he and panel chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) unveiled Tuesday evening would pass the committee.

“My sense is that we have a really good chance of consensus developing,” he said. “I do think John will offer an amendment that I think will be constructive.”

Corker acknowledged the meeting was rocky at the start but emphasized that lawmakers took steps toward resolving their differences.

He said the panel is likely to pass the resolution later on Wednesday but opened the possibility of convening the committee “Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday” to finish its work.

“I think we may well complete our work today,” he added.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an outspoken critic of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, said he would oppose the resolution.

“I don’t see a clear-cut or compelling American interest,” he said of the national security issues at stake in the wake of a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. “I don’t see that our involvement will lessen the tragedy. I think it may well make the tragedy worse. I think more civilian deaths could occur. I think an attack on Israel could occur."

Updated at 1:40 p.m. 

“I don’t see anything good coming from our involvement,” he added.