Correction appended, Sept. 18
The House passed legislation Wednesday to authorize the training and equipping of Syrian rebels, approving a key part of President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting Islamist militants in the region.
The legislation, which also funds the government through mid-December, passed 319 to 108. But the amendment to arm the rebels passed 273 to 156, with more than 70 members from each party voting against it—signaling the bipartisan wariness of many in Congress to engage in another Middle East conflict.
“I don’t think it was the best choice but it was a step in the right direction,” said Representative Tony Cárdenas, Democrat of California. “It’s my understanding that we’ll get an opportunity to deliberate and then eventually vote on what we’re going to do in December … It was the first time I can remember that I was actually sitting there [on the House floor] wondering how I’m going to vote until I actually voted. And I voted yes.”
Lawmakers who opposed the amendment said the President’s strategy to arm so-called moderate Syrian rebels is misguided. The Obama Administration is hoping these fighters can help beat back the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
“I’ve never been satisfied that we’re not going to end up fighting people that we’ve armed at some point in the future,” Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, said. “No one ever defined victory to me that made any sense whatsoever.”
The amendment even lost the support of Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, a top Democratic leader.
“I support the President’s overall strategy; I support what he’s doing in providing air support for the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish rebels,” Van Hollen said. “I have misgivings about this piece because the priority of the so-called Syrian rebels is to defeat [Syrian strongman Bashar] Assad. And I understand that, but it’s hard at this point to see how defeating Assad strengthens the mission against ISIS.”
The Senate is expected to pass the legislation later this week.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the vote tally for legislation to fund the government. It passed 319 to 108.