Top Republican on intel panel joins call for arming rebels in Syria

“You don’t want to arm the bad guys,” he said. “But we do want to have some influence when this is over so that they can help us secure both conventional and chemical weapon stockpiles.”

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Rogers reiterated his concern that Assad has already used chemical weapons, crossing President Obama's red line that would provoke a U.S. response. The administration says it has seen no evidence that such weapons were used but is investigating.

“I believe there were instances where small quantities of chemical weapons have been used,” Rogers said, “and I believe there’s some validity to what has happened recently and certainly they had intentions.”

Engel was expected to introduce his bill to provide up to $150 million in “security assistance” –  both lethal and non-lethal – earlier in the week, The Hill reported Monday, but was delayed until Thursday after Engel joined the president on his trip to Israel. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who briefly had his hat in the ring for the ranking member spot after defeating Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) in last year's election, has also signed on.

The White House has balked at arming the rebels out of concern that U.S. weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist militants, even though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged such action last year. Those concerns are shared by many Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“While I respect the opinion of my colleagues, I sincerely do not believe that it is time for the U.S. to arm the rebels,” hawkish Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the past chairwoman of Royce's committee, said at a hearing Wednesday. “Too many questions remain about who the rebels are and with whom they will swear allegiance. The unknown can be dangerous, and the vetting of the opposition is not enough when it comes to providing lethal aid that could be used against our allies, such as Israel, or the United States in a post-Assad era.”

Panel chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) told The Hill that he would bring up the bill in committee, but would not decide whether to support it until hearing from experts on both sides of the argument.