House Republican bill on arming Syrian rebels would restrict Obama's power

In an effort to win over skeptical House Republicans on a resolution arming the "moderate" Syrian rebels, the Republican leadership has included curbs on the president's authority, including a provision explicitly preventing the president from deploying combat troops without congressional authorization.

The bill will be offered as an amendment to the continuing resolution that will fund the government through December 11.

The Hill:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would have to give lawmakers a heads-up at least 15 days before beginning any training of opposition fighters — a provision offered by administration officials, aides said.

And the Pentagon would need to give an update to lawmakers every 90 days.

The language also limits presidential authority through mid-December, and states Obama does not have the green light to send in U.S. combat troops.

The rollout of the amendment comes amid a full-court press by the White House to pressure Congress to quickly send the legislation to Obama’s desk. The president has personally been calling lawmakers on Capitol Hill urging them to grant him authority, and he’ll be making more calls in the coming days.

The White House feels good about the chances for getting authorization for the package through Congress, a senior administration official said. Obama spoke with lawmakers from both parties on Monday and, according to the official, is personally gratified that he has received support from Republican and Democratic leaders for the proposal.

According to the White House, officials weren’t sure the idea would receive bipartisan support with the public still wary of military action following the Bush years. But, the official said, congressional leaders expressed bipartisan agreement for that path forward during an Oval Office meeting last week with Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Boehner and Obama spoke last Wednesday on the telephone and have cooperated in trying to move the package forward — a sharp shift from the chilliness over much of the last year.

Senior GOP leadership aides said they’re confident they have the votes to pass the Syria amendment. But a big test will come Tuesday morning when Boehner faces members of his conference, some of whom are downright dubious of arming the rebel fighters.

“I don’t support arming the Free Syrian Army because we don’t know who they are,” Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) told The Hill last week.

Some specifics in the Syria measure shared Monday are intended to assuage those doubts. Members want to “keep tabs” on the number of Syrian rebel troops trained and deployed, as well as on how effective they are on the battlefield and what’s happened to the equipment they’ve used, said an aide familiar with the plan.

We know what this White House thinks of congressional timing requirements. They snubbed Congress when they didn't report the Bergdahl deal as they were required to by law. Why should we believe them now?

It seems we never learn. We armed the Libyan rebels to fight Qaddafi and now they're using those weapons to kill each other in a war between Muslim crazies and slightly less-crazy Muslims. But the search for "moderate" Muslims among the rebels will continue, despite evidence that there probably aren't enough of them to fill an old fashioned phone booth.

Republicans are keeping their powder dry on this issue. I suspect that after the election, an effort will be made to make Obama come to Congress for authorization to go to war in Syria. And the rebel training issue will also come into better focus after a few months.


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