The White House may be struggling badly with its political standing, and Democrats may very well have a rough election cycle, but President Obama can still occasionally get exactly what he wants.
For example, the president and his team worked hard to secure support for part of his new counter-terrorism strategy, and yesterday afternoon, the Republican-led House delivered.
The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday afternoon to greenlight President Obama’s controversial proposal to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels in effort to defeat the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Obama wanted this measure, and he got it. The president wanted the House to approve a spending measure – the “continuing resolution” – to avoid a government shutdown, and he got that, too. Obama even urged lawmakers to extend the life of the Export-Import Bank, and despite the controversy, that’s also going through.
It’s not often the White House can reflect on developments on Capitol Hill and conclude, “We got everything we hoped to get.”
Of course, in yesterday’s case, Obama had some help. The measure on support for Syrian rebels passed because House Republican leaders endorsed the administration’s plan. The CR passed, despite some recent grumbling, because there was little appetite for a pre-election government shutdown. The Export-Import Bank will live on because so many of the GOP’s allies in the business community urged Republicans to side with the White House on this.
Still, presidents struggling in the polls generally don’t get what they want, especially from chambers run by the other party, especially when contentious issues like war take center stage. Yesterday, however, Obama had a good day.
That said, there was plenty of drama surrounding the proposal on supporting Syrian rebels – with a more difficult discussion on the way.
The Syrian measure – amendment to the spending bill – passed on a 273-to-156 vote, which did not fall neatly along partisan lines. It spends no new money on arming and training these would-be allies on the ground in Syria, but instead “grants the president authority to train foreign forces to confront the Islamic State and to accept contributions in cash and in kind to help finance it. Saudi Arabia has already pledged to host the training of Syrian rebels, and the Obama administration promises to vet the fighters for reliability.”
The package now goes to the Senate – which will hold one vote, unlike the House’s two – where it’s generally expected to pass. The vote in the upper chamber will probably be today.
I’ve seen some comparisons between yesterday’s measure and the vote authorizing the Bush/Cheney administration to invade Iraq, but the parallels are imprecise. Yesterday’s vote was about supporting rebels – an important-but-narrow facet of a larger strategy – and it expires in December, which will require lawmakers to return to the issue after the midterm elections for a more thorough examination of U.S. policy in the region.
Put another way, yesterday’s vote was significant, but it was not congressional authorization for the use of military force. That’s the fight lawmakers need to have, but have decided to put off.
In the meantime, the Obama administration isn’t sitting on its hands, waiting for a green light. U.S. forces launched their 174th airstrike yesterday on ISIS targets in Iraq. As Rachel explained on the show last night, these aerial combat missions are expected to continue for months “before Congress ever even tries to vote on whether that is the right thing for the U.S. military to be doing.”
The earliest Congress will even be able to vote is the day after Veterans’ Day, at which point lawmakers might weigh in on this military campaign that’s already underway.