The House on Wednesday passed a measure giving President Obama the approval he sought to train and arm Syrian rebels as part of his war against the Islamic State.
The 273-156 vote was broad and bipartisan, but opposition came from across the political spectrum over the course of six hours of debate. More Democrats voted against the president than Republicans, a rarity in the GOP-controlled House.
Both Republican and Democratic leaders supported the proposal, while many conservative hawks and liberal doves voted no.
The measure was structured as an amendment to a broader bill funding the government through December, which passed soon afterward. The Senate is expected to take it up as soon as tomorrow before lawmakers skip out of Washington and back to the campaign trail. The passage of the underlying legislation would prevent a government shutdown at the end of September.
With Congress not planning to consider granting Obama a full use of force authorization until after the November elections, the debate over arming the Syrian rebels served as a proxy for arguments over his more comprehensive strategy for defeating ISIS.
Supporters argued that despite doubts lawmakers might have, Congress needed to send a message of national unity to allies and enemies alike.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) spoke for many Republican critics of Obama when he said the U.S. was facing a threat "that has been ignored for too long and must no longer be tolerated."
I know that many of us in the chamber, from both sides of the aisle, believe the president’s strategy should do more to eradicate these extremists from the earth.
But despite those reservations—reservations that I share—we must support this amendment and take this first step towards a comprehensive strategy to combat these brutal terrorists. Voting against this request would send a terrible message that America is unwilling to stand with those who are already fighting a common enemy, and confirm the views of many in the region that America is but a paper tiger."
Obama and top White House officials had lobbied aggressively for congressional backing in recent days, and they won the critical support of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who urged Republicans to support it.
Many Democrats gave their votes equally as reluctantly.
"It’s not pleasant. It's not easy," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. "It's hard, but it really is necessary for the House to approve this."
Her chief lieutenant sent a similar message.
"We know empirically, the cost of doing nothing is far too great," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat.
Americans don’t want American men and women on the ground, but Americans do want ISIL confronted."
Hoyer said the House needed to send "a message to the world that we are united in our resolve to meet this threat."
But that argument did not win over a significant bloc of lawmakers on both sides, who said Obama's plan to arm unknown rebels risked coming back to haunt the U.S.
An Iraq war veteran, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), said he could not "vote for something that will not work."
Arming Islamists to fight other Islamists is not a winning strategy.
We need to crush the Islamic State. We need to kill them. We need to burn the Islamic State to the ground. And you don’t do that by arming Islamic Syrians."
Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) suggested Obama's plan was one crafted out of desperation.
This is a plan that is destined to fail for the sake of having said we did something. That is something I cannot support."