Congress Votes to Arm Syrian Rebels

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The Senate voted late Thursday to approve a measure authorizing the Obama Administration to arm Syrian rebels in a vote that united many of the chamber’s liberals and conservatives.

The 78-22 vote followed on a 319-108 vote in favor of the measure Wednesday in the House of Representatives, sending the bill, which also funds the U.S. government through November, to President Barack Obama for signature. The vote clears the way for the U.S. to directly arm and train “moderate” rebels in the fight against both Syrian President Bashar Assad and the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Obama thanked lawmakers for swiftly approving the measure, after requesting the authorization in a speech to the American people last week as part of the Administration’s broad strategy to combat ISIS. “I am pleased that Congress, a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate have voted to support a key element of our strategy,” Obama said from the White House.

Obama said the congressional votes proved to the world that “when you threaten the United States and when you threaten our allies, it unites us, it doesn’t divide us.”

U.S. air strikes continued to target ISIS forces Thursday in Iraq, destroying an ISIS armed vehicle, two ISIS-occupied buildings and a large ISIS ground unit near Mosul and an ISIS ammunition stockpile southeast of Baghdad, U.S. Central Command announced. The President, who was briefed by Pentagon planners on potential ISIS targets for U.S. strikes in Syria on Wednesday, did not indicate when he would give the order for those efforts to commence.

“Today our strikes against these terrorists continue,” Obama said. “We’re taking out their terrorists, we’re destroying their vehicles, their equipment and their stockpiles.”

The bipartisan nature of the vote belies the divide in Washington over Obama’s strategy. Many of the most ambitious Senate lawmakers, including Republican Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders voted against the measure, which was the subject of spirited debate on the Senate floor Thursday. Senator Marco Rubio was the only likely 2016 presidential contender to vote in favor of the bill.

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