House approves plan to assist Syrian rebels; Senate votes Thursday
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The House on Wednesday approved President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS.
With significant opposition to the proposal in both parties, the vote was 273 -156. More than one third of the House — 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats — voted no.
Many Republicans argue the strategy isn’t tough enough to defeat ISIS; many Democrats worry the plan could drag the United States into another long military engagement.
The proposal would authorize the Pentagon to provide assistance to “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition and require the administration to give Congress a detailed plan for helping the rebels before that assistance could begin.
The Senate will vote Thursday on the proposal.
House Republican leaders scheduled an extended debate that stretched over two days. Most measures are only discussed for one hour with only a handful of people participating. But since so many House members were elected after Congress weighed in on Iraq, close to 100 Democrats and Republicans came to the House floor to explain what amounted to their first vote on an international conflict.
It was a debate that highlighted unusual alliances.
Conservative Republicans who want more aggressive military action joined progressive anti-war Democrats worried about another U.S. intervention and opposed the measure.
But backing the plan were hawkish GOP members and Democrats who argued the proposal to send Syrian groups into the fight against ISIS would send a message to international partners to join the effort.
The vote came as an amendment to a spending bill to keep the government funded through mid-December. It was a vote to grant the new authority to President Barack Obama, but didn’t include any new money.
The administration has adequate resources for its current airstrike campaign and the program to assist the rebels in an existing fund covering overseas operations. The measure would let the Pentagon transfer money from that account as needed.
Notably, some war veterans on both sides of the aisle argued forcefully against giving the new authority to the President.
Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who fought in Iraq, said the goals of the President’s plans to arm Syrians were “unrealistic” and pointing to Iraq and Libya, said sharply, “clearly our leaders have not learned their lessons.”
California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, who fought as a Marine in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said that while he did support arming Syrian rebels last year, the sectarian violence has worsened and now he has “no confidence we are arming the right people.”
But another veteran, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, who flew missions over Iraq, warned that not giving this authority would send a worrisome signal to U.S. allies in the region that are battling the terror group.
Others argued this was a time to unite behind the President to show the international community that the United States was moving against terrorism.
The third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise, warned “the threat of ISIS is real and growing and it’s not just limited to the Middle East.”
The Louisiana cnogressman said while Congress was giving this authority to the administration, “there’s got to be a give and take,” and said the provisions added by the GOP would give the legislative body oversight over the new operation with the Syrian moderates.
Congress is expected to debate a broader war authorization after the midterm elections.
By Deirdre Walsh