Obama pressed to arm rebels in Syria

More than a week after President Obama said his red line had been crossed in Syria, lawmakers are demanding he do something about it.

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Members briefed by Secretary of State John Kerry this week said the administration is still weighing its options and seeking their input. Several of them told The Hill that it's high time for the White House to arm the rebels, as it promised to do last week when it declared that President Bashar Assad's forces had used chemical weapons.

“It just seems like there's a lot of agonizing over actually taking some steps,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And I think many of us are concerned that ... if you're going to put your thumb on the scale, [time is running out].”

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters last Thursday that the administration would offer “military support” to the rebels. A week later, however, Obama has provided no clarity to the public or to Congress about what exactly that entails.

“Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people,” Rhodes said at the time, “the president has augmented the provision of nonlethal assistance to the civilian opposition and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and we will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks.”

Corker said his committee has already passed legislation to arm the rebels, and Obama should just work off of that without waiting for the full Congress to weigh in.

“A lot of what they want to do could be done just through reprogramming and just approval by the committee heads,” Corker said.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who also voted for the legislation last month, said the panel's 15-3 vote showed “broad consensus” in Congress for such action. He said the president has “certain inherent powers” that could allow him to take such a step on his own.

“I think the United States needs to be in a more leadership role,” Cardin said. Kerry is “letting us know how he sees things, where the administration is, while trying to get our view.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, echoed Corker.

“I think it's time to act. I think it's time for the president to take whatever action he's going to take, or at least announce it,” Inhofe said. “[Obama] said he would make a decision if the red line was crossed. And then the red line was crossed, he admitted it was crossed, and no decision's been made.”

Not everyone is getting frustrated with Obama's deliberative pace, however.

“These are very tough decisions that are very important to our national security,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel. “I appreciate that the administration is coming to us and is talking to us about the options and what we think.”