WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Republicans left their weekly closed door meeting Tuesday morning still skeptical of the plan to arm Syrian rebels but with the expectation that the amendment authorizing the action will pass as long as Democrats provide a healthy number of votes.
“There is a lot of concern. I think it has less to do with the amendment and more to do with the fact that I think we broadly think that a larger authorization is needed. We don’t agree that the president has what he needs — or at least many of us don’t agree with that — we need that larger debate. But this is what the president has asked for right now,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said, noting most members see ISIS as a “clear and present danger.”
Cole added that he expects a majority will give President Obama the authorization he is requesting, on a bipartisan basis.
“It’s going to take a bipartisan coalition to pass it. I think there will be bipartisan opposition,” he added.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) said that while he is opposed to the action, he also expects the amendment and continuing resolution to pass.
“This is just another example of a hope and a dream that we’re doing the right thing. That is not a good foreign policy,” he said — adding he expects the policy to be an “exercise in futility.”
Republicans expressed concern that the authorization is not broad enough to confront the ISIS threat and that questions remain about just who the Syrian moderates are and their capabilities. Many said they would like to see an authorization for a broader use of force.
“I’m supportive of the amendment. It doesn’t get us everywhere we need to be, the commitment needs to be more comprehensive than what the president outlined, but this is the first step that meets the initial objective and go from there,” Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) said.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) left the meeting opposed to the authorization to arm the Syrian rebels, instead he said he would vote for an authorization for complete military force, so that military leaders can be the ones to decide how to achieve victory.
“I think that there are people on both sides,” Salmon said. “There are folks that believe we need to give the president what he has asked for. I think that the president has asked for this bare minimum because he knows in his heart it is going to fail,” he said — arguing that the plan needs to be to end ISIS “once and for all.”
“I don’t believe that the plan in place is going to come anywhere close — they are going to be so outgunned,” he continued, going on to voice frustration that Obama has said more about what will not do, rather than what he will do.
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) was also a no on both the amendment and the continuing resolution but said he expects the both measures to pass with bipartisan support.
“I think we’re in two groups: Basically I don’t think anybody thinks its a good strategy but some want to say let’s give the president what he wants because he is the only president we have and there are others who say, ‘I don’t want to endorse in anyway an action we cannot be committed to,'” he said.
Fleming recalled a classified briefing he attended earlier in the morning at a secure House Armed Services Committee Pentagon briefing, which laid out that ISIS as a “first class army.”
“These guys are not a second rate force,” he said. They are battle hardened, very disciplined. They have state of the art weaponry. They even have night goggles — night vision — they even have surface-to-air capability. So they’re not something to be written off and to say we are going to go out and train people who are unproven, who really have no allegiance to the United States to do a proxy war to be in effect mercenaries, I think is really a questionable strategy.”
House Speaker John Boehner said he is looking to provide Obama the authority he has requested.
“I frankly think the president’s request is a sound one. I think there is a lot more we need to be doing but there is no reason for us not to do what the president is asking,” he told reporters at his weekly Tuesday briefing.
“This is an interim step to do what the president has asked us. It does not preclude us from revisiting the issue of a broader use of military force,” Boehner said, adding that he believes it is important for the Congress to speak on the matter.