By Malia Rulon Herman, Gannett Washington Bureau
Editors: UPDATES with details from House hearing; Note breakout box on where the delegation stands at end.(AT)
WASHINGTON â€" Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted Wednesday to authorize the use of limited force against Syria.
"This is the one indispensable nation in the world," Menendez said after most committee members joined him in voting to approve the resolution on Syria. "It is a heavy burden, but it is also an opportunity to lead the world to a safer, more secure world. I believe we have met that burden today, and I believe we will do so as we move to the Senate floor."
Wednesday's committee vote moves the Senate closer to giving President Barack Obama a congressional OK to launch a military strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The strike would be come in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that administration officials say killed at least 1,400 Syrians, including hundreds of children.
Members of the Foreign Relations Committee approved the resolution 10-7 after senators adopted amendments from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., designed to "change the military equation on the battlefield."
The resolution would limit hostilities to 60 or 90 days, confine the conflict to Syria's borders and prohibit U.S. troops on Syrian soil. McCain's amendments didn't alter those constraints but made clear the end goal of a military strike should be "a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria."
The committee's consensus came after closed-door meetings Wednesday morning that delayed the start of its meeting by almost three hours.
The GOP-led House, meanwhile, continued considering Obama's request for a resolution authorizing military action in Syria. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a four-hour hearing on the issue with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, a senior member of the committee, announced plans during the hearing to introduce a resolution creating the Syrian War Crimes Tribunal to hold accountable anybody -- Assad as well as any members of the opposition -- who "slaughtered and raped in Syria."
"We have learned lessons from the Special Court in Sierra Leone, we have learned lessons from the Rwandan Court, and certainly learned lessons from the Court in Yugoslavia," Smith said. "Establishment of such a court has to be immediate, and I think it could be a rallying point."
Kerry said he would support such a court, but warned it might be a tough sell.
"I understand there have been conversations with Syrians and other countries about a special court. Perhaps we can have more luck with that, I would certainly welcome an effort to hold people accountable for those kinds of abuses, but as you know the international courts have not fared well with both parties," he said.
Kerry sought throughout the hearing to assuage lawmakers that the administration is not planning to wage war or institute regime change, but instead to right a wrong similar to Nazi Germany.
"I mean, that would be one of those moments in history that will live in infamy," he said, making reference to the 1938 Munich agreement and the U.S. refusal in 1939 to accept a boat of Jewish passengers, many of whom later died in concentration camps. "There are moments where you have to make a decision. And I think this is one of those moments."
Despite his emotional appeals to lawmakers' sense of humanity and how history will view their vote, the hearing highlighted ongoing opposition in both parties and called in to question whether a majority of House lawmakers can support a resolution authorizing military action.
Smith and others pressed for answers to questions about what would happen if military action was approved.
"How do you define 'limited' and 'short duration,' and what might Assad do in retaliation? And what contingency plans do we have if and when he attacks in other areas that we may not have anticipated?" asked Smith, who has not said how he would vote on the resolution.
The full Senate is scheduled to vote next week, as is the House.
In the Senate, Obama is likely to need 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster, while a simple majority of those voting in the House is required for approval.
Contributing: Gregory Korte and Susan Davis, USA TODAY.
Where they stand:(AT)
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.: Yes
Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa, R-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.: Leaning No
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J.: Leaning No
Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. , D-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.: Undecided
Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.: Undecided
Contact Malia Rulon Herman at mrulon(AT)gannett.com or (AT)mrulon on Twitter