Senate Dems balk at Syria

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are balking at language drafted by House Republicans that would authorize President Obama to train and equip moderate rebels in Syria. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says he will vote against appropriating $500 million to assist Syrian rebels whom the Obama administration hopes will serve as a moderate alternative to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

{mosads}He noted that billions of dollars spent training the Iraqi army did little to halt ISIS’s advance through northern Iraq.

“Spending eight years, spending $20 billion trying to train [a] 280,000-person army in Iraq … First challenge they had, they turned tail and ran and turned all the weapons over to the enemy,” Manchin told reporters.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Senate Democratic leader, said he wanted to change the House resolution.

“It’s not written as clearly as it should be. We’re talking about going into Syria at this point, which is a dog’s breakfast of violence and terrorism,” said Durbin, the chairman of the Senate’s Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

A House GOP aide noted the House-drafted continuing resolution does not include any additional funding to train Syrian rebels.
The White House has said the mission will be paid for with international contributions. The GOP aide said if U.S. funds are necessary, they could be transferred from existing accounts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) predicted Tuesday the Senate would combine the stopgap funding measure and the Syria legislation expected from the House this week. He said it would pass with bipartisan support.

Separately, a Democratic leadership aide also said the Syria resolution would likely have enough votes to pass despite the complaints.

“It will lose some votes on both sides,” the aide said, predicting opposition from an assortment of liberals and conservatives.
Aides say they doubt the Senate will have enough time to amend any language passed by the House.

Manchin criticized the language by saying the chances of persuading less radical Syrian rebels to fight ISIS are slim because they are both fighting to topple Bashar Assad.

“We’re going to go in and try to carve out 3,000 or 5,000 of those people and say, ‘OK, now we want you to turn right and fight ISIL?’” Manchin said, using another acronym to describe the group.

“What [are] the chances of us losing those weapons and all that money and training that we’ve invested in these people and they might just side up with ISIL and say, ‘We all have the same common goal to get rid of this nemesis in Syria.’”

Durbin shared Manchin’s concerns that it would be difficult to sort out potential allies among 1,500 different militia groups.

“His bill envisions vetting them to sort out the ones we can work with and those we can’t. What an undertaking to try to turn this into a strategy that stops ISIS, number one, and doesn’t help Assad, number two,” Durbin said of the legislation crafted by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (Calif.).   

Other Democrats said they do not know whether they will vote for the House bill.

Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) said they were undecided.

Merkley expressed concern about rebels “being overrun and losing [their] equipment to the other side.”

“I’m going to go to caucus and listen to what people say today,” said Brown. “I’ve not said publicly I’m voting yes or no.”

“I support the intent. I want to see the language,” Shaheen said. 

This story was last updated at 11:20 a.m. on Sept. 17.

Tags Dick Durbin Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Jeanne Shaheen Jeff Merkley Joe Manchin
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