09.17.14

House Approves Obama Plan to Arm Syrian Rebels Against ISIS

Despite warnings from war-weary opponents on both sides of the aisle, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House voted Wednesday to give President Barack Obama authorization to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels to combat ISIS militants.

The vote was 273 in favor of the measure, 156 against. Seventy-one Republicans and 85 Democrats voted no.

Both House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi backed the move, which Obama and his top advisers lobbied for with personal calls to dozens of lawmakers.3

“It's extremely precarious,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) said of the operation, which he supports, “I could give you a hundred reasons why it's a bad choice, but it's the best choice of worse options.”

Obama formally requested the narrow authorization last week, saying that -- while he believes he already has the constitutional power to address the threat -– congressional support for this specific operation would “show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.”

But he faced resistance from some Republicans who said Obama’s past foreign policy errors led to the rise of ISIS after the United States withdrew troops from Iraq. Many in his own party, wary about the possibility of another escalating conflict in the Middle East akin to the unpopular Iraq War, opposed the measure as well. And lawmakers on both sides expressed concern that the same weapons received by supposedly moderate rebels could circulate into the hands of American enemies.

“I do not see how we are going to be able to thread the needle whereby we arm those we think are ‘good guys’ in this conflict without inadvertently making the bad guys stronger as well,” Rep Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said on the House floor.

“Arming Islamist to fight other Islamists is not a winning strategy,” Rep Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who is also a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said on the House floor, “I don't believe the weapons and tactics that we bestow to the Islamists will only be used against America's enemies, we've been through this before in Iraq in Afghanistan."

Today’s vote comes as a growing bipartisan chorus of lawmakers from both the House and Senate are calling on Obama to seek Congressional approval for his broader strategy to combat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. A number of lawmakers have introduced, or are currently working on, tailored Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) language for fighting ISIS, but aides say it’s unlikely Congress will consider any broader authority until they return from campaigning and elections in November.

“I personally believe we need a debate and a vote on an authorization to use force, because that’s what we’re here to do,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told reporters, “It’s not about this President, this Congress, but it’s about Congress’ responsibility and duty under the Constitution.”

The authorization came in the form of an amendment to a larger stopgap spending bill intended to keep the federal government’s lights on until lawmakers return from their fall recess. It now goes to the Senate, which is still debating the authorization. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the upper house would vote on the authorization Thursday afternoon.