The House on Wednesday approved President
's plan to arm Syrian rebels in the fight against
militants, giving the administration a much-needed endorsement of its strategy to defeat the extremist group.
But though the
Some Republican hawks wanted bolder action, but many lawmakers, particularly antiwar Democrats, fear that the administration is moving toward another protracted Mideast war that could ultimately require American ground troops.
Obama reiterated Wednesday that U.S. combat forces would not be deployed, a day after his top military advisor told a Senate panel that ground troops could be necessary in certain circumstances.
Despite the 273-156 House vote by an unusually bipartisan mix of lawmakers, passage came only after several days of heated debate on Capitol Hill. A rare unity emerged from top leaders in both parties who closed ranks to back the president's strategy, even as they acknowledged it was the best among imperfect options for a war-weary country.
"It is not pleasant. It is not easy. It's hard," said House Minority Leader
House Majority Leader
The resolution authorizes the arming of moderate Syrian forces who oppose President
Obama has maintained he doesn't need further authorization from
The White House bet that the narrowly crafted resolution on arming Syrian rebels would be easier to pass for lawmakers reluctant to vote on such a sensitive issue during an election campaign.
But passage proved much more difficult than anticipated, spurring a last-minute flurry of White House lobbying and pressure. Both parties held extensive closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill as administration officials presented its case, with the president personally calling some leaders.
Because many current lawmakers joined Congress in the post-Sept. 11 era, Wednesday's vote marked the first time some had ever acted to authorize military operations. Many wrestled with the decision.
"There are a lot of people struggling with this vote right now," Sen.
"So that makes it — even if you think you should be doing something — like going into a football game with a quarterback you're not very sure of.... A lot of members are afraid they'll put their fingerprints on a decision and then live to regret it down the road because the execution will be poor," Cole said.
The White House initially requested $500 million for the training program, but the funding was left out of the resolution. Money will be initially available from the
House Republicans bolstered the resolution to require 15-day advance notice to Congress before any training begins, and follow-up reports every 90 days.
The resolution was attached to a must-pass spending bill that is required to fund the government and avert another
Linking the Syria resolution to the funding bill made it more difficult for lawmakers to refuse, but the tactic drew scorn from those who saw it as political gamesmanship on a vote that many see as one of conscience.
Congress had initially been reluctant to vote on any authorization of the administration's military strategy. But when polls showed public opinion supportive of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, lawmakers embraced a more active role.
Both the stopgap spending bill and the authority to arm Syrian rebels are effective only until December, all but guaranteeing another debate on Syria in the postelection lame-duck session of Congress.
Lawmakers from both parties vowed to return from the November election to force a debate — and vote — on whether the president should be able to engage in broader military action.
Though the administration maintains that the U.S. is conducting airstrikes under War Powers Resolution authority granted by Congress in 2001 and 2002, lawmakers increasingly argue that those resolutions do not cover this effort.