Washington – Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, was the only member of Connecticut’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives to vote for an amendment Wednesday that will allow the Pentagon to spend money arming and training Syrian rebels.
The rest of the delegation voted against the $500 million measure sought by President Obama to help the United States fight Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.
“For those who argue that what we are about to engage in is a slippery slope or that this authorization broadly confers on the administration the ability to conduct a land invasion or a large military force, the fact of the matter is — is that the long and broad experience … tells us exactly the opposite,” Courtney said in a speech on the House floor before the vote. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
After the House voted on a bipartisan basis, 273-156, to approve the measure, Courtney issued a statement that said, “I believe that this measure strikes a sensible balance between providing the authority and support the president has requested, and establishing a narrow scope of operations with robust congressional oversight.”
Democrats were torn between their wish to stay loyal to President Obama and party leaders and their concerns about escalating U.S. involvement in a fight against Islamic militants, known as ISIS or ISIL.
Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said she cast a vote of conscience.
She said her first vote in Congress was the 1991 resolution that authorized the first Gulf War. DeLauro voted against that legislation, too.
“Syria is a deeply complex situation. It is a nation in the midst of a civil war, splintered between Shia and Sunni, authoritarians and al Qaeda, and along countless other points of fracture,” DeLauro said. “We need to take action against ISIL, and I support air strikes and other counterterrorism measures. But I believe that the amendment before us today provides much broader authority, and I cannot support it.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said he was leaning against giving the president authority to spend money arming Syrian rebels after Obama asked Congress for help last week.
After attending a number of briefings and asking a lot of questions, Himes said he was sure of his opposition.
Himes said he supported aggressive action against ISIS, including U.S. air strikes, “but the creation of a proxy army we don’t control and which has a double mission is a mistake.” The double mission the Syrian fighters would have to undertake is fighting both ISIS and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a U.S. foe.
“It’s bad enough to be on one side of a civil war, but now we would be on both sides of a civil war,” Himes said.
Reps. John Larson, D-1st District and Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District were also “no” votes.
In a statement, Esty said she supported U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and applauded Obama for seeking multinational support for the mission. But, she said, “I have not received sufficient assurances that the proposed plan to train and equip Syrian opposition forces will advance U.S. national security interests.
The language on the Syrian rebels was inserted into a must-pass government spending bill, which will keep the government running until Dec. 11.
Congress approved that spending bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, by a vote of 319-108.
Courtney voted for the CR, as did Himes and Esty, even though the language on Syria was included.
But DeLauro and Larson voted against the CR.
“I wanted to be consistent,” DeLauro said.
The amendment requires the Obama administration to keep Congress fully informed on how it intends to implement the training and equipment program for rebel groups.
The vote on the amendment, and the CR, were rare moments of bipartisanship in a Congress that suffers from gridlock. The continuing resolution, with the Syria provision, now goes to the Senate for consideration.