Se­nate vot­ing on rebel aid af­ter House backs Obama

The Covington News - - THE WIRE -

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.

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