Tags: ISIS/Islamic State | reid | ask | vote | Islamic State | Funding

Reid Calls for Vote on Training Syrian Rebels

Wednesday, 10 September 2014 04:53 PM

In the run-up to a presidential address, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Wednesday for a quick pre-election vote to approve the administration's request to train and equip Syrian rebels fighting terrorists seeking an Islamic state in the Middle East.

House Republicans offered no commitment although Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said at mid-afternoon, "We stand ready to listen and work with the president to confront this growing threat." His remark came after GOP leaders spurned a personal plea from President Barack Obama and left the issue out of a must-pass spending bill due for the vote in the next few days.

"It's clear to me that we need to train and equip Syrian rebels and other groups in the Middle East that need some help," Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday. "The president has tried to get that from us and we should give it to him. That's one way of helping to build an international coalition."

Emerging from a briefing with administration officials, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and chief author of the spending bill, said Obama called him Tuesday night to ask that approval for the training of Syrian rebels be included.

He said he told the president the administration's request had come late, even though Democrats said it had been transmitted last Friday. Rogers said lawmakers need more information about the situation in Syria, and that a major decision like arming the rebels deserves its own debate.

"In good faith, we're trying to get briefed up on what the request is and it's a complicated big-time change in policy that I hate to see us attach to a continuing resolution at the very last minute," Rogers told reporters. "This is a complex, complicated policy change that needs to be fully vetted here in the Congress."

House Republicans planned to meet on Thursday morning to discuss the next steps.

Obama's speech was seen as crucial to swaying uncertain lawmakers, although he outlined his request to Speaker John Boehner, Reid and two other top lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

The White House request asks for "authority to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Syrian regime" as well as stabilize areas in Syria under rebel control.

Some Republicans signaled they could support the request to arm and train Syrian opposition forces, especially if Obama lays out a good case Wednesday night.

"We may not have another option," said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind. "I think we need a more comprehensive effort than that but that we're probably going to need that component," Coats added, referring to arming Syrian rebels. He said it's important to make sure they are properly vetted to make sure arms don't get in the wrong hands.

A senior GOP aide said Republican leaders were keeping an open mind on the subject but noted that lawmakers in both parties have expressed reservations about the administration's lack of follow-up details to earlier requests for assistance to Syrian rebels. The aide insisted on speaking only on grounds of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to discuss internal party deliberations by name.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said Reid may opt to press the idea as legislation separate from the government-wide funding bill. That's also an option for the GOP-led House.

Republicans also have rejected a companion request to direct $2 billion in unspent funding for overseas military operations to "respond to emergent regional crises" in "Eastern Europe, support ongoing operations in Iraq, and respond to other potential crises" without harming the Pentagon operations or readiness. The request arrived only Friday and was not issued publicly despite its $2 billion price tag.

After Reid's call, there was no reaction from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to the president's request.

There is bipartisan anxiety about helping Syrian rebels, in part because of the potential to add instability to a region already in upheaval.

In a speech in May at the U.S. Military Academy, Obama called for a $5 billion counterterrorism fund, but the proposal drew resistance on Capitol Hill as the administration was unable to spell out how the money would be spent.

The $5 billion request includes $500 million to arm moderate rebels in Syria battling the forces of President Bashar Assad.

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In the run-up to a presidential address, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Wednesday for a quick pre-election vote to approve the administration's request to train and equip Syrian rebels fighting terrorists seeking an Islamic state in the Middle East.House...
reid, ask, vote, Islamic State, Funding
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 04:53 PM
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