House punts on Syria decision as talk turns to October session

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House Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting Thursday split over whether to give President Obama authority to arm and train Syrian rebels fighting against Islamic terrorists.

Both Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) made forceful cases for aiding the fighters. But others in the conference had grave reservations about who exactly these fighters are and whether arms could get into enemy hands.

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“The Syrian rebels, we don’t know if they’re our friends, and I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Rep. Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Lynn Herrera BeutlerThe 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration 13 House Republicans who bucked Trump on emergency declaration House votes to overturn Trump's emergency declaration MORE (R-Wash.) told The Hill as she walked out of the meeting. “You don’t want to give things to people who are gonna hurt you, hurt your troops, so I haven’t decided.”

Given the division, lawmakers said GOP leaders won’t make a decision on the Syrian language until at least early next week. And since the administration has asked that the language be included in a stopgap-funding bill meant to keep the government operating this fall, that bill is now in limbo too.

There was even discussion that the expected two-week session slated to wrap up next week could be extended to the week of Sept. 29 as Congress struggles to finish its work.

Congress was originally intended to be in session that week, but lawmakers are eager to hustle back to the campaign trail before Election Day and it was widely expected that the week of work would be cancelled.

“We may wind up being here an extra week,” said Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTaylor Swift says she wants to get more involved in politics Bipartisan lawmakers introduce resolution supporting vaccines Hillicon Valley: Cohen stuns Washington with testimony | Claims Trump knew Stone spoke to WikiLeaks | Stone, WikiLeaks deny | TikTok gets record fine | Senators take on tech over privacy MORE (R-Tenn.), who wants a separate vote on the Syria provision. “It is important to address this; it is important to get it right.”

In addition to Rogers and Royce, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also spoke in favor of the president’s plan to arm Syrian rebels. And attendees in the meeting said leadership appeared to favor attaching the Syria language to the funding bill.

That sentiment was shared by defense hawks like Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

“I will support it” in the CR, LoBiondo said in an interview. “I think we need to send a clear message to the enemy, to our allies and everyone who’s watching that we’re unified in our decision to eliminate and destroy the enemy before they come on our shores.”

Kinzinger predicted that a majority would coalesce behind the president, who in a prime-time address Wednesday night laid out a strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and called on Congress to authorize aiding the Syrian rebels.

House lawmakers later Thursday morning headed into a secured, all-member briefing with Obama administration officials to hear more details about Obama’s plan.

“I think there's going to be some debate about what that language looks like,” Kinzinger said. “But I think you're going to have a very large majority of Republicans and Democrats come together on this.”

Still, there’s plenty of dissention, especially from vocal members like Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannGillibrand becomes latest candidate scrutinized for how she eats on campaign trail Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents Yes, condemn Roseanne, but ignoring others is true hypocrisy MORE (R-Minn.) who warned that the U.S. shouldn’t outsource the fight against ISIS to Syrian rebels.

“This is a very bad strategy. If the United States goes in to defeat this enemy, we need to control this,” Bachmann said. “I believe that we need to go in and control our own destiny, or we need to get out.”

Bachmann warned that funding the Syrian rebels would ultimately backfire.

Obama’s “choosing the wrong guys to fight this war," Bachmann added. “I think what's gonna happen is we would end up funding the enemy.”

And Rep. Paul BrounPaul Collins BrounCalifornia lawmaker's chief of staff resigns after indictment Republican candidates run against ghost of John Boehner The Trail 2016: Let’s have another debate! MORE (R-Ga.) also said he opposed the concept of arming the Syrian rebels, regardless the legislative vehicle.

“I don't trust 'em,” Broun said. “I think they're enemies of the United States, just like ISIS.”

Another contingent, including Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), said they'd prefer two separate votes, but would go along with any strategy Republican leaders adopt.

“I would rather have a separate vote,” Upton said. “They [GOP leaders] made the point that the president asked for that [the CR route]. … I'm going to vote for the CR, and I'm going to vote for the authorization.

“If we need to stay here extra days, so be it,” Upton added.

"To attach this particular issue with ISIL into a continuing resolution, in my judgment, diminishes the debate," said Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksThe 23 Republicans who voted against the anti-hate resolution House passes anti-hate measure amid Dem tensions Congress just proved there is hope for honest discussion on climate MORE (R-Ala.), a conservative who used another acronym to describe ISIS.

"Ideally I'd vote separately to send a stronger message," said moderate Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), though he added that Congress should do what ever is necessary to pass the authority.

King also warned delaying a vote until after next week could extend the debate into October, sending a negative signal to U.S. allies.

 "The longer there's uncertainty, the worse signal it sends overseas so I think it's important we should resolve the troop vetting and training now," he said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) didn't think that combining the authorization into the CR would threaten the vote count.
 
"I wouldn't think so," Rogers said. 
 
Rogers originally said Wednesday that authorizing the administration to arm the Syrian rebels should be a separate vote from the continuing resolution, though he acknowledged that he would ultimately carry out what leadership wants. After leaving a special two-hour House GOP conference meeting Thursday morning, Rogers was less adamant about separating the two issues.
 
"The CR is the only real vehicle available at the moment that's quick to take action," Rogers said. "The CR deals with funding the entire government, the military as well."

In the face of all the divergent views, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said that, as of Thursday morning, the question of the GOP strategy remains “wide open.”

This story was updated at 11:48 a.m.