Nancy Pelosi’s Red Line for Congressional Input on Syria

Pelosi says she is open to letting House members shape the Syria resolution, but one idea goes too far in her mind

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013.

Updated, Sept. 5, 4:45 pm

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says there are limits to how far Congress can go to put its stamp on a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria.

“There are all kinds of ideas” among members for what the resolution should look like, Pelosi told TIME on Tuesday night. “There are some, I think, that are saying it should determine the number of strikes it should take. I think that goes a little far.”

“Run for president, or join the military, but I don’t know that we should be doing that in Congress, determining how many strikes it should take to take somebody out,” she continued. “Just from a logistical perspective and strategic standpoint, I don’t know how we would know how to determine that.”

A resolution authorizing the use of military force against Bashar Assad’s government began winding its way through Congress on Wednesday, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a proposal allowing the Obama Administration to strike “legitimate military targets” for up to 90 days. But this was only a first step. The measure, which squeaked through the committee by a vote of 10 to 7, could be altered once the rest of Congress has had the chance to weigh in.

Pelosi welcomes a House debate. “Let me say this: our members may have different views on what this resolution will look like,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told TIME on Tuesday night. “All of them will have their day to discuss it.”

One Democratic proposal in the House, by Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, imposes narrow restrictions on the nature of the strike against Syria. Even within its 60-day window, the resolution would prohibit the President from repeating the use of force beyond the “initial military action” unless the President certifies in writing to Congress that the Syrian forces have repeated their use of chemical weapons.

Congress faces a jam-packed legislative calendar over the next several weeks. It must pass a resolution to keep the government funded by Sept. 30, which is imminent enough. But the deadline is effectively 10 days sooner, since the House is scheduled to be on recess the week of Sept. 23. By mid-October, Congress must also find a way to raise the nation’s borrowing authority, a task complicated by a partisan deadlock over whether a debt-limit hike should be offset by spending cuts.

On Wednesday, according to a report, Pelosi said the calendar “can accommodate a couple of weeks of debate. Our members want to have a say in shaping the resolution.” But it’s hard to see how Congress will find the time.

(Update, Sept. 5, 4:45 p.m.: According to a Pelosi spokesperson, the Congresswoman’s remark was meant to indicate that if the Senate, as expected, doesn’t vote on a Syria resolution until the end of next week, the House probably will not be able to follow until the week thereafter.)

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