Bipartisan Bloc Coalesces Behind CR, Syrian Rebels Amendment
Despite lingering reservations on both sides of the aisle, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats is coming together behind proposals to arm Syrian rebels and fund the government beyond Sept. 30.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer confirmed Tuesday that, despite some provisions his colleagues don’t like — namely a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank through only June 30, 2015 — Hoyer and a significant bloc of Democrats would not withhold their support on the continuing resolution. “You don’t get perfect,” Hoyer told reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing.
The Maryland Democrat also said Democrats would support an amendment proposal from Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., that would give the Obama administration the authority it requested to arm and train Syrian rebels in order to combat Islamic terrorists.
With the support from Democrats, passage of the CR and adoption of the Syria amendment look increasingly assured. There are plenty of remaining concerns regarding the trustworthiness of the Syrian rebels. But with Republican and Democratic leadership supporting the measure — not to mention the White House, which has been calling members to drum up support for the proposal — passage of the CR does not appear to be in doubt.
There remains a significant bipartisan contingent opposed to the Syria amendment. Some anti-war Democrats are reluctant to authorize any escalation of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. And many Republicans seem to think the legislation is either inadequate or misguided. But adoption of the amendment looks to be a safe prediction.
Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters Tuesday there’s “a lot more that we need to be doing” to address the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL — the terror group in control of parts of Syria and Iraq. “But there’s no reason not to do what the president asked us to do,” the Ohio Republican said.
As for how many Republicans will oppose the Syria amendment, no one seems to know. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., predicted that only 10 to 15 Republicans would vote no. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said he thinks there would be more than 20. Both predictions appear to be conservative projections from two members who are opposed to the amendment themselves.
At the Tuesday morning conference meeting, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, handed out a nine-page document, titled “Our ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Allies,” which outlined various concerns with arming the Syrian rebels.
Georgia Republican Austin Scott told CQ Roll Call Tuesday morning that if the Syria amendment is attached to the CR, he’d be voting against the spending bill. “Every time the United States has gotten into a war, it has started with something like this,” Scott said.
Many other Republicans have expressed to CQ Roll Call their opposition to the Syria amendment over the last two days. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said he is concerned the Obama administration’s proposal was more about arming opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad than it was about defeating ISIL.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said members voting for the amendment were “tacitly” voting to authorize war in Syria. And Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said while it isn’t clear what arming Syrian rebels would do, it is clear that it wouldn’t be enough to defeat ISIL.
GOP leadership, meanwhile, doesn’t seem worried about the vote. When Rep. Matt Salmon spoke over the phone with Majority Whip Steve Scalise to express opposition to the Syria amendment, Scalise didn’t try to twist the Arizona Republican’s arm. Instead, the Louisiana Republican told Salmon to go to the House floor and speak his mind.
“They’re not lobbying very intensely for us,” Salmon said.
Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., said Obama was “going to have bring his party along with the plan as well,” and he confirmed Republicans hadn’t even done a whip check on either measure yet. They may not even formally poll their members on the Syria amendment. Instead, McHenry said, at this point, Republicans are just having a “family conversation.”
A number of prominent Republicans are very publicly pushing for adoption of the amendment — GOP leadership included. And their arguments that Congress and President Barack Obama need to do something seem to be winning.
“The point is,” Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce of California said Tuesday, “that the failure to act is not an option when you have a force that has now doubled in size, beheaded Americans and Europeans, and announced an intention for a wider caliphate.”
And while Republicans are voicing concern over the strategy, they seem committed to doing something.
“You have to take a look at this vote in its own, on its own merits. And there are many people who are worried about the broader strategy,” said Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “But that’s another conversation entirely.”
For now, Republicans seem content to authorize the so-called Title 10 authority and leave until the November midterm elections. And it seems Democrats are on the same page.
“I assume the votes will be there,” said Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, who is supporting both measures. “But yeah, Democrats are going to have to put up their share of votes on the board.”
Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.
Correction 2:34 p.m.
An earlier version of this article used the incorrect name for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.