Obama's Plan to Arm Syrian Rebels Gains Congressional Support

PHOTO: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media during his weekly briefing at the US Capitol, Sept. 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media during his weekly briefing at the US Capitol, Sept. 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The House of Representatives could vote as soon as Sept. 16 to authorize President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels, the office of the House Majority Leader announced Thursday.

House Speaker John Boehner said Obama “made a compelling case for action” during his primetime address to the nation last night, but questioned whether the mission the president laid out is aggressive enough to reverse the Islamic State’s momentum.

“A lot of our members think a lot more needs to be done than what was laid out last night,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “I'm not sure that we're doing all that we can do to defeat this terrorist threat, and if our goal is to eliminate ISIL, there's a lot of doubt whether the plan that was outlined by the president last night is enough to accomplish that mission.”

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Boehner said that although members are being briefed on a range of options that the president is contemplating, he supports Obama’s request to train and equip Syrian rebels. The speaker added that the Free Syrian Army has “been very well vetted” by U.S. intelligence officials, but warned they could be wiped out without timely U.S. assistance.

“Today they're in a fight against [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], they're in a fight against ISIL, and they're in a fight against another al Qaeda affiliate in eastern Syria,” Boehner said. “And they're about to get run over.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered support for Obama's plan and predicted easy approval of authority to train Syrian rebels.

"I expect this proposal to pass Congress with broad, bipartisan support," Reid, D-Nevada, told reporters at a news conference flanked by Sens. Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, and Chuck Schumer, each of whom offered their full support for the president.

On whether the Obama-requested measure will be broken off as a standalone measure or included in a broader spending or authorization bill, Reid said "that's a decision the House is going to have to make."

He also called on lawmakers of both parties to "close ranks" and support Obama's plan with a unified voice.

Asked if he and his colleagues have given extensive thought to what happens after the U.S. either does or does not destroy ISIS, Reid didn't have a specific answer.

"Let's not be negating everything that's been accomplished over the last few days," he said. "Let's just not rush into things."

And Boehner made clear that there is a tough road ahead.

“An F-16 is not a strategy and airstrikes alone will not accomplish what we're trying to accomplish,” Boehner said. “The president's made clear that he doesn't want U.S. boots on the ground. Well, somebody's boots have to be on the ground.”