Levin: Obama has authority to arm rebels

A senior Democratic senator said Thursday that President Obama already has the authority to train and arm moderate forces in Syria, raising questions over whether a congressional vote to approve the program is necessary.

"He's asked for $500 million dollars for training and equipping, and he's asked for specific authority and support for training them — he already has the authority by the way," said Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinInspector general independence must be a bipartisan priority in 2020 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer MORE (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Levin just Wednesday had encouraged lawmakers to grant the president that authority in any short-term spending bill Congress passes to keep the government open.

House Republicans and Democrats are currently debating whether to give the president that authority and the funds in a stopgap government funding bill known as a continuing resolution.

The resolution would keep 2015 Pentagon war funding levels consistent with 2014 levels at $85 billion, which would contain money for the $500 million training program.

But a provision granting the authority for the program is contained in a defense authorization bill that is not expected to pass until later this year, while the continuing resolution is expected to pass as early as this week.

Many questions remain about the train and equip program, which would dramatically expand a current CIA program that has reportedly trained and armed about 4,000 Syrian opposition rebels.

The rebel forces would then confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and go after Syrian leader Bashar Assad. The administration estimated the program would train about 3,000 forces over 18 months, but lawmakers protested that many more forces would need to be trained.

"We need to help equip a sizable force. A lot more than what we're currently doing. It's got to be a robust force," Levin told The Hill.