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OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Obama seeks go-ahead to train Syrian rebels

THE TOPLINE: President Obama is asking Congress for the authority to equip and train moderate Syrian rebels as part of a short-term spending bill to fund the government.

The push for the authority comes as the president gears up to address the nation Wednesday night about the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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The White House wants lawmakers to pass the authorization before they adjourn next week and thinks a continuing resolution, which must be approved by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown, presents the best opportunity for doing so, according to a senior administration official.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress should approve the president’s request "as soon as possible." Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also voiced support for the administration’s appeal.

But GOP lawmakers are split over the president’s request, with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) saying any Syria authorization should be separate from the spending bill.

House GOP lawmakers will hold a special conference Thursday morning to discuss their response to Obama’s speech.

All House members will also receive a classified briefing about ISIS by top administration officials on Thursday morning.

The White House request capped another whirlwind day on Capitol Hill, with many GOP lawmakers chiding the president after he told congressional leaders Tuesday that he did not need their approval to use military force against ISIS.

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it would be “preposterous” for Obama to not seek approval of Congress. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Obama’s failed policies had contributed to the rise of the militant group.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) warned that the president would need lawmakers in his corner to defeat to the group, raising expectations for the president’s Wednesday night address.

 

SEVERAL HUNDRED” US FIGHTERS WITH ISIS? "Several hundred" Americans have gone to fight with extremist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to a House Republican on Wednesday. 

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, warned that they and thousands of other Western fighters could exploit vulnerabilities in a visa-waiver program that would allow members of ISIS to enter the U.S. undetected. 

The program allows citizens from 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without the same visa restrictions as citizens of other nations. 

But with an estimated 12,000 foreign fighters in Iraq, and more than a thousand of them Europeans from visa-waiver countries who could enter the U.S. undetected, the program needs to be reviewed, Miller said. 

"We are a very free and open society, but we're looking at a changing world here," Miller said. "Time is of the essence." 

A Homeland Security Department official said ISIS posed both a "short-term and long-term” threat to the U.S. 

“I do believe it could be short-term and long-term threat to the United States," said Troy Miller, acting assistant commissioner for intelligence and investigative liaison for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

Rep. Miller urged better cooperation from Western allies — including Canada, which she said has “been reluctant” to share intelligence such as airline manifests with the U.S.

"Getting that information is really critical," said John Wagner, assistant commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection's office of field operations. 

"One of the things we would like to see [is a] stronger response from some of our partners overseas," he said.

 

CHENEY BLAMES OBAMA FOR ISIS: Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday blamed President Obama's "principled indifference" for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

"We must deal with threats before they become grave dangers and dangers before they become catastrophes," he said at the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday. 

Cheney called Obama "willfully blind" to the idea that U.S. security is not self-sustaining, and called for a new commitment to the military budget. 

Ahead of the president's prime-time address Wednesday night, Cheney said the threat from ISIS is immediate and needs "sustained action," and called for the United States to target the group in both Iraq and Syria and increase the number of military advisers in the region.  

"Our president must understand we are at war and that we must do what it takes, for as long as it takes, to win," he said. 

On Tuesday, Cheney met with House GOP lawmakers who sought his advice on how to tackle the threat from ISIS.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) mocked Republicans for turning to Cheney on Wednesday, citing his role in the Iraq war.

“Please, taking advice on foreign policy from Dick Cheney?,” said Reid.

“That’s a terrifying prospect.”

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: 

—Syria strikes would need on-the-ground intel, say defense experts 

—Treasury will 'intensify' efforts to cut off ISIS funds

—Levin doubts defense vote this month

—Colo. woman pleads guilty to aiding ISIS

—Boehner invites Ukrainian president to address Congress

 

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