The House will debate and vote this week on President Obama's proposal to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels as an on-the-ground force to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The proposal, which is expected to be voted on Wednesday, will be offered as an amendment to a short-term spending bill that Congress must pass in order to keep the government running past the end of September. That way, lawmakers will have the chance to cast separate votes on the proposal to train the rebels and fund the government.
The amendment authored by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-California, authorizes the secretaries of defense and state to equip vetted members of the Syrian opposition who are fighting both Syrian President Bashar Assad and ISIS. There is no additional money given to the effort, but the Defense Department is granted permission to shift around existing funds to meet their needs.
Additionally, the amendment requires that the administration provide Congress with detailed progress reports on the plan, the vetting process, and procedures for monitoring what happens to the equipment and training given to the rebels. Mr.Obama must also tell lawmakers how arming the Syrian opposition fits into a larger regional strategy.
The language is careful to indicate that it does not authorize the use of U.S. forces in Syria, a matter that has not been debated by Congress even though some Republicans have called on the president to send U.S. troops into Syria.
"We don't want anyone to construe this specific authorization as a broader authority for the use of military force, simple as that. And if we need to readdress this issue, we certainly will," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday morning.
The formal debate on the proposal is beginning just as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appears on Capitol Hill to testify on Tuesday and Wednesday. Secretary of State John Kerry will brief Congress Wednesday and Thursday.
Members of Congress have indicated they still have outstanding questions about the president's plan, and Hagel and Kerry are expected to face close scrutiny.
Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican on the Armed Services Committee, took to the Senate floor with his laundry list of questions for the administration Monday: "How long will it take to win? How long will it take to crush ISIS? ... What is the definition of victory in this case? If we accomplish our objectives, will we once again abandon our gains as we did after the scourge in Iraq? What is the plan to eliminate the terrorist group's financial network?"
But most of the leaders in Congress are supportive of Mr. Obama's request, including Boehner -- who also says the U.S. should be doing more to stop ISIS>
"I frankly think the president's request is a sound one. I think there's a lot more that we need to be doing, but there's no reason for us not to do what the president has asked us to do," Boehner said.
But, he added, "if our goal here is to destroy [ISIS], we've got to do more than train a few folks in Syria and train a few folks in Iraq and dropping bombs. I just don't know its enough to achieve the objective the president outlined."
Boehner indicated last week that members of the House GOP still need convincing that the plan will work, saying last week that they "don't feel like the campaign that was outlined ... will accomplish the mission that the president says."
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, said that many members would "like to see a broader strategy to go after [ISIS], not to tell people what he won't do. You shouldn't tell the enemy what you won't do, but to lay out how we're actually going to destroy this terrorist organization."
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