The top US Republican said Tuesday he backed President Barack Obama’s “sound” plan to arm and train vetted Syrian rebels for battling extremists and called on Congress to authorize the action.
Lawmakers began a marathon debate on the strategy, with many seeking a united front for the commander-in-chief’s opening salvo against jihadists in Syria but adamant that Congress firm up its role in whether to authorize broader military action.
“Frankly, I think the president’s request is a sound one,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters after convening a caucus meeting to convince members to approve the issue in a crucial vote expected Wednesday.
“There’s no reason for us not to do what the president asked us to do,” he added.
– We can do more –
But he reiterated a common theme emerging among Republican conservatives that there was “a lot more” Washington could do to battle the Islamic State (IS) group rampaging across parts of Iraq and Syria.
Lawmakers said they expect Congress will approve the measure this week, in the form of an amendment to a stop-gap government funding bill, before recessing until after the November 4 congressional elections.
“I always have a question of whether he is in it to win it or not, whether the resolve exists to do what needs to be done,” Senate Republican John Thune said.
“But I think he’ll have a lot of support here this week from members of Congress on both sides for at least this step forward that he’s taken.”
Boehner and others urged that a broader debate over American use of force against IS jihadists be launched after election day.
“Even though… I support what the president is doing, I’d like to take another look at it a couple of months (from now) and see how it’s working out,” said top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell.
– Into a quagmire? –
Congressman Tom Cole said conservatives worry the authorization for training the Free Syrian Army was too narrow, but added he believed there was sufficient support to pass it.
“We’re certainly going to give him what he asked for, I think, or at least a majority of us will,” Cole said.
House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon, who introduced the measure, tailored it in a way that puts checks on Obama’s powers.
It requires the administration to keep Congress in the loop with reports to lawmakers every 90 days, authorizes action only through mid-December and prohibits Obama from dispatching US combat troops.
Nevertheless, McKeon said he feels Obama should be doing more to address the threat.
“We need to galvanize and go full bore after ISIL,” he said.
Lawmakers appeared to agree that Obama ultimately needs new authorization for the use of military force against the IS group, rather than depend on authority put in place following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“Most members feel, like me, that going into military action on an authorization of 2001 and 2002 in a different place against a different enemy — that was never meant to be,” Cole said.
Reflecting the gravity of Wednesday’s vote, the House of Representatives began six hours of debate, with most members appearing to back the amendment.
But lawmakers from both parties expressed opposition, including Democratic congressman Rick Nolan who warned against stumbling into a quagmire.
“Make no mistake about it, we have given arms to every element in this conflict with the notion that somehow the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Nolan said.