Senate voting on rebel aid after House backs Obama
WASHINGTON (AP) — Leaders of both parties expected quick passage Thursday as the Senate neared a vote on President Barack Obama’s request for congressional backing to train and arm Syrian rebels battling Islamic State militants.
The measure sailed through the House on Wednesday as Obama won support from staunch Republicans who typically oppose him but lost votes from some of his most loyal Democratic allies in a 273-156 House tally. Republicans backed Obama by a more than 2-1 margin; Democrats backed him as well, but to a lesser degree.
Top leaders of both parties stood with the president despite reservations that his strategy of arming moderate rebel groups could backfire or won’t be enough to blunt the advance of Islamic State forces. Obama has pledged airstrikes as well but is adamant that he won’t send U.S. combat troops to battle the Islamic extremists in either Iraq or Syria.
“We must pursue a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strat- egy, and a bipartisan coalition in the House voted to support a critical component of that strategy,” Obama said after the House vote.
Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential presidential candidate in 2016, took the opposite tack, warning his Senate colleagues on Thursday that they were sending aid to bad actors and would only further destabilize an already chaotic region.
“Intervention when both choices are bad is a mistake. Intervention when both sides are evil is a mistake. Intervention that destabilizes the Middle East is a mistake,” he said on the Senate floor. “And yet, here we are again, wading into a civil war.”
The Senate was voting late Thursday on the measure, which was added to a must-pass, stopgap spending bill to keep government agencies operating into December.
The measure is the last major business on Capitol Hill before lawmakers return to their districts and states to campaign for re-election.
The new authority is part of $500 million that Obama requested in May to train and equip Syrian rebels. The cost, to be covered by leftover war funding from this year, generated virtually no debate among lawmakers, who focused instead on the possible consequences of a new military mission not long after a war-exhausted nation largely pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry testified before House committees.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Hagel said the military had presented a detailed Syrian plan to Obama on Wednesday during the president’s visit to Central Command and was awaiting his sign-off.
“The president has not yet approved its finality,” Hagel said.
At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Kerry sought to push back on an argument by some in Congress that Syria’s rebels lack moderates, or at least any with the capacity to make a difference in the war.