House Republican leaders expect to approve President Obama's request for authority to train and arm pro-Western rebels in Syria as part of an amendment to a larger measure that funds federal agencies, according to senior GOP aides.
The likely route now would involve House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) setting up a process where supporters of attacking Islamic State forces would offer an amendment to the government funding bill, Republican aides said. At this point, there appears to be wide bipartisan support for the Obama proposal to train Syrian rebels who would be fighting on the ground against both Islamic State forces and those aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Republican critics of Obama's strategy to counter the Islamic State -- which includes a sustained round of airstrikes by U.S. military jets and drones -- say he is not going far enough to battle the terrorist group that has seized wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Boehner has told those critics that they need to first approve this modest request and then consider their options in the months ahead.
"Please rest assured that I will work with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to ensure your government has the support from the United States that it needs to prevail against the terrorists," Boehner wrote Friday in a letter to the new prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) also predicted a majority of Democrats would support the initiative to train the rebels. Hoyer is pushing for a broader debate on authorizing broader military action in the lame-duck session after the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
Holding two separate votes on the military plan and the funding for federal agencies would accomplish two goals. It would allow those lawmakers who support the attack on Islamic State but oppose the funding bill for other reasons to cast votes making their position clear. The approach would also give a much clearer bipartisan mandate for Obama's foreign policy than the single vote, which would've been muddled.
There a few different parliamentary approaches being considered for the amendment vote, but Republican leaders hope to give final approval Tuesday night or Wednesday, sending the measure to the Senate. There, it's unclear if Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) will allow any amendments or just move to a final vote on the entire package.
However, Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) and some other liberals -- who otherwise support the funding bill to keep the federal government up and running -- are pushing for a vote specifically on the Syria plan. If the House clears the legislation early enough next week, it's possible that they would be allowed to offer an amendment to try to strip the language from the funding bill. That effort would likely fail, but would allow the Senate to also be specifically on the record on a vote that some lawmakers consider a matter of conscience.