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Congress Generally Supportive Of Action Against ISIS


First the president outlined his strategy for dealing with ISIS, now comes the vetting. On Capitol Hill today, members of Congress received classified briefings from military and intelligence personnel.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith spent the morning at the Capitol talking to lawmakers. She's now back at the White House.

Hey there, Tamara.


CORNISH: So precisely what is President Obama asking of Congress and more importantly, how is it being received?

KEITH: The president says he has all of the authority that he needs to conduct broad airstrikes in Iraq and even Syria. But he's asking for congressional approval and funding for the U.S. military to train moderate Syrian rebels, who would essentially serve as ground forces in the fight against ISIS in Syria, which is where ISIS is based. The U.S. has actually been training some of these rebels for about a year now but it's all been covert. And the president wants to turn the training over to the U.S. military, get funding to do it, arm the rebels and work with them openly. And as for how it's being received - I'd say that this part of the strategy in particular is raising a lot of questions. Some on the Hill say it isn't enough; that the U.S. can't rely on these rebels to do it all and that some U.S. boots may need to be on the ground in Syria. And many are worried that the weapons could end up in the wrong hands.

CORNISH: Tamara, President Obama went to Congress to get authority to use airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria over the use of chemical weapons, you know, a year ago. Now at that time, Congress balked. Is the president's proposal for ISIS at risk of a similar fate?

KEITH: No. It seems that the consensus this time is to do something. Even those who are critical of the president's strategy or worry it doesn't go far enough are saying things like, we may not like the strategy, but it's the only one we've got so we've got to help the president - even if it makes them uneasy. There's a saying that politics ends at the water's edge. And in some ways that appears to be what's taking hold here.

Gerry Connolly is a Democratic congressman from Virginia who is concerned about unintended consequences of arming the moderate Syrian rebels.

REPRESENTATIVE GERRY CONNOLLY: I think most of my colleagues - Republican and Democrat - are motivated to be supportive of the president. It's a world of difference from a year ago, when we were debating military airstrikes in response to the chemical attacks by Assad.

CORNISH: As you mentioned, Gerry Connolly; a Democrat. I mean, he says they're motivated to be supportive of the president. But what form would that take?

KEITH: Well, to hear the Obama administration tell it, all they really need is the authority to train the rebels. And if Congress wants to bless the airstrikes or write a new authorization of military force, they can go right ahead and do it. But the administration isn't asking for that. And in part, that's tempering expectations. The president doesn't want to ask for too much and then not get it.

Initially there was talk of attaching this authority to a must-pass spending bill. Now it's not clear whether that'll happen or not. Both progressives and conservative members of Congress want a separate vote. And many of them would like a chance to vote on the broader mission and not just training the Syrian fighters.

Matt Salmon is a Republican congressman from Arizona.

REPRESENTATIVE MATT SALMON: I think that we need to vet this thoroughly through the American people. And if we need to stay an extra few weeks, you know, and it has to run into campaign time, then so be it. Do we have more of a moral obligation on anything than we do on putting our people in harm's way? I don't think so.

KEITH: Members are heading home this weekend and we'll hear from their constituents and there are number of hearings and briefings scheduled on this next week.

CORNISH: That's NPR's White House correspondent, Tamara Keith.

Tamara, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
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