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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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September 4th, 2013
06:13 PM ET

Democratic congressman: 'I don’t think anybody knows” if House can pass Syria authorization

Three top Obama officials made another round Wednesday in their campaign to sway Congress to support the president's proposal for limited military strikes in Syria.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today.

The hearing showcased plenty of skepticism from both sides of the aisle.

Asked if a war resolution can get through this House, Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen told CNN's Jake Tapper, "I don't think anybody knows right now."

The Maryland Democrat said the shadow of Iraq hangs over the situation.

"The evidence is very different in this case. It’s very clear that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, and the whole purpose of the amendments, the way to change the president’s resolution that we’re proposing, is to make sure that there's no way we get engaged in large-scale military activity in Syria," said Van Hollen.

Van Hollen is referring to a proposal he co-authored with fellow Democrat Rep. Gerry Connolly, a House resolution that would put limits on the administration's authority.

That resolution is something of a contradiction to an amendment from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approved a resolution authorizing a U.S. military response to chemical weapons use by Syria, sending the measure to the full chamber for debate next week. The vote was 10 to 7.

The added amendment – from Senators John McCain and Sen. Chris Coons – would make it U.S. policy to change momentum, in effect increasing the authority of what the U.S. should do.

Van Hollen said at issue is whether the Senate bill "authorizes the president to use military force for those purposes that he said was to try to change the balance. That is not the purpose that the president has articulated, so that should not be the purpose of the authorization."

The bill Van Hollen and Connolly put forward would essentially make it illegal for the U.S. to deploy troops on the ground, and limit the president's authority to one round of strikes carried out over a 60-day period, hemming in the president's authority to wage war.

Van Hollen said another important provision is "if after the initial military strike, Assad does not use chemical weapons, what we are proposing is there be no authority to continue American military action."

Kerry testified before the Senate and House committees that the proposed strike on Syria is not war. Other, including former military generals, have argued attacking Syria with missiles is an act of war against a sovereign country, whatever the reason.

"This is certainly not war in the sense that we're mobilizing all the forces of the United States to go after, replace a government or anything like that," said Van Hollen.

"I envision, at least based on the president's comments today, that the military action taken in Syria would be much more confined in both scope and time than the Libya action," said Van Hollen.

The resolution Van Hollen and Connolly put forward "is designed to make sure that that is the exclusive purpose, it is designed only to achieve the mission articulated by the president, and limit that scope of action," said Van Hollen.

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