The House on Wednesday agreed to grant President Obama's request for authorization to train and equip Syrian Free Army rebels to help fight ISIS. But the vote underscored deep reservations shared by Republicans and Democrats alike over the strategy for fighting the Islamic militant group in northern Iraq and Syria.
Many lawmakers also fear that the president might end up leading the country back into another major war in Iraq, despite his repeated promise not to deploy U.S. ground troops as part of his strategy.
In the showdown over the authorization request, the House voted 273 to 156 to approve it, with 159 Republicans joining 114 Democrats to approve the measure as part of a major spending bill. But 85 members of the president’s party broke with him, along with 71 Republicans who also voted no. House GOP leaders voiced skepticism that Obama’s strategy of stepped-up airstrikes and anti-terrorism activities in concert with allies will be enough to defeat ISIS, but concluded he was entitled to the authority he sought.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said the amendment “ultimately lets the president start a process” that he laid out in his televised speech last week.
“The threat of ISIS is real and growing, and it’s not just limited to the Middle East, though,” Scalise said at the conclusion of a six-hour floor debate. “Americans know this is ultimately something we will have to confront if we don’t address it now with swift action.”
But many Democrats fret that the president may be leading the country back into another protracted and costly battle in Iraq without Congress adequately considering the consequences or deciding whether to grant Obama additional war powers to greatly escalate the U.S. military effort in Iraq.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stressed she and her members would hold Obama to his pledge that he won’t send U.S. combat troops to fight on the ground – a promise both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerrey reiterated today. “I will not vote for combat troops to engage in war,” Pelosi told reporters, reflecting a predominant view within her caucus. “All I can say to you is … we are not there to support combat troops in any of these engagements.”
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