Lawmakers: We will pass Syria aid
House lawmakers predict their chamber will vote Wednesday to give President Obama authority to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels fighting Islamic militants.
But it won’t come without griping from both sides of the aisle.
Republicans complained Tuesday that Obama’s plan was ineffective and doesn’t go far enough to decimate terrorist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, (ISIS), and it’s not clear whether a majority of GOP lawmakers will back it.
“I think there are a lot of folks, especially on the Republican side of the aisle, who don’t have a lot of confidence in President Obama,” conservative Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), who will vote yes, said in an interview.
“But I think they’ll vote for it because they see ISIL as a serious threat,” he added, using another acronym for ISIS.
Across the aisle, Democrats were delivering a similar message.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) characterized Obama’s strategy to train the rebels as “highly risky” but predicted it would pass because “there are no better alternatives.”
“It does give authority to the president to pursue a course of action which is going to suck us back into the region,” Moran said. “But I don’t think there’s an alternative. We have too much at stake.”
Moran said it would require “a third to a half of the Democratic Caucus” to pass the measure in the face of GOP defections.
“I think you can probably get that,” the Virginia Democrat said. “Leadership is on board, but they may be ahead of some of their caucus.”
Obama and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who both rose to power as opponents of the Iraq War, face a daunting task in convincing war-fatigued Democrats to help Republicans pass the White House’s plan to defeat ISIS.
Fears that the U.S. could be drawn into a deeper conflict were fanned by comments on Capitol Hill from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who told a Senate panel that Obama had ordered him to come back “on a case-by-case basis” to determine if ground troops are necessary for the fight.
Yet in the end, several lawmakers suggest the gruesome images of ISIS members beheading American and British prisoners would likely motivate a bipartisan coalition to vote yes on the plan.
“I can speak for the American people, and I think they are sick and tired of seeing Americans being beheaded by ISIS,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). “And they want us to go in there and do what we can to stop the spread of this terrorism. … There’s only 30,000 of them.”
Obama, Vice President Biden and senior administration officials have been bending the ears of both Republicans and Democrats to support the Syria plan. In all, they made more than 60 calls to members since Sept. 9, a White House official said, including to both chairmen and ranking members of the national security committees.
Tony Blinken, the White House deputy national security adviser, attended the House Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday morning to lay out the administration’s plan and address lawmakers’ concerns.
On the GOP side, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (La.) team spent the afternoon huddling in his office to plot strategy and gauge support during roll calls Tuesday. But a GOP aide said Scalise’s whip team was not actively pressuring members to vote for the Syria measure.
House Democratic leaders also do not plan to whip the vote formally, aides said, although Pelosi made her own case for supporting the measure at a caucus meeting Tuesday afternoon.
“Boy, she made a strong argument,” said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who remains undecided.
Still, a number of liberal Democrat — including Reps. Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Lloyd Doggett (Texas) and James McGovern (Mass.) — said they plan to oppose the measure.
“I’m not convinced that what we’re doing is going to achieve the result that people who support it think we’re going to achieve,” McGovern said. “It’s that simple.”
The main complaint from the left on Tuesday was that Congress has not provided the administration broader use-of-force authority in fighting ISIS militants, despite airstrikes ordered by Obama in Iraq.
McGovern said he’s leaning toward opposing both the Syria amendment and the underlying spending bill meant to keep the government open this fall, if the Syria provision is attached.
“My inclination would be to vote no for both,” McGovern said.
The House on Tuesday approved a rule setting up six hours of debate on the Syria amendment and another hour on the underlying funding measure, which would keep the government open through Dec. 11. Six Republicans — Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Walter Jones (N.C.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.) voted against the rule. Five Democrats — Reps. Ron Barber (Ariz.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Mike Michaud (Maine), Scott Peters (Calif.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) voted in favor of it.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered public support for Obama’s plan, but GOP members like Reps. Jeff Miller (Fla.) and Matt Salmon (Ariz.) have vowed to vote against arming the Free Syrian Army because they’re concerned they simply can’t be trusted. That makes winning support from Democrats all the more critical.
“The Republicans do need our votes to pass it,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in the Capitol. “The Democrats are going to have various different views, but my presumption is the CR will pass.”
Across the Capitol, powerful Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) also predicted the Senate would pass the House’s Syria measure, though some of her Democratic colleagues raised objections.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who said he would vote against the Syria measure, noted that billions of dollars spent training the Iraqi army did little to halt ISIS’s advance through northern Iraq. And Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in leadership and a close Obama ally, was seeking to amend the House resolution.
“It’s not written as clearly as it should be. We’re talking about going into Syria at this point, which is a dog’s breakfast of violence and terrorism,” said Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations’ Defense Subcommittee.
Yet even opponents of the Syria amendment conceded that Congress, facing the looming midterms, would very likely pass the measure by week’s end.
“I know I can’t vote for it,” Rangel said. “[But] I think it’ll pass because … I really think that members are more anxious to go home and to get reelected than they are with the constitutional question we’re faced with.”