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.
“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 Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble The Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Kinzinger says Trump 'winning' because many Republicans 'have remained silent' 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 BlackburnBig Tech should pay for damaging mental health Facebook to testify in Senate after report finds Instagram harms mental health House Oversight Democrat presses Facebook for 'failure' to protect users 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 BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger 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 BachmannBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it 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 BrounHundreds apply to fill Isakson's Senate seat in Georgia Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia California lawmaker's chief of staff resigns after indictment 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 BrooksWatchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments Jan. 6 panel seeks records of those involved in 'Stop the Steal' rally Jan. 6 panel to ask for preservation of phone records of GOP lawmakers who participated in Trump rally: report 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.
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.