Only weeks after President Barack Obama promised in an address to the nation “to degrade and, ultimately, destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a majority of the Connecticut Congressional delegation voted against legislation that would authorize the Department of Defense to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels.
After four months of brutality led by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Obama declared on Sept. 10 that the US will fight to combat terrorism in Syria and Iraq. In the first step toward this goal, an amendment was added to a bill earlier this month authorizing the Secretary of Defense to spend money on training and arming moderate Syrian Rebels. Although the bill was ultimately approved by Congress, the Connecticut Congressional delegation voted against the amendment, with many members claiming that it was not well planned.
Four of Connecticut’s members of the House of Representatives voted against the amendment, which would provide $500 million that the Obama Administration was seeking to combat ISIS in Syria.
“I support air strikes and other counterterrorism measures,” Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District said in a statement after the vote. “And I support the men and women of our armed services. What I cannot support is overly broad authorities where we try and arm the ‘good guys’ without inadvertently making the ‘bad guys’ stronger too.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, who also voted against the bill, said that although he supported airstrikes against ISIS and believed that an aggressive effort is needed to degrade ISIS capabilities, he doesn’t believe in creating a proxy army that the United States has no way of controlling. He also stressed the importance of addressing the underlying issues of groups like ISIS.
“We are completely failing to talk about the deeper issue that arises, which is how to change the conditions that allow groups like ISIS form in the first place,” Himes said. He stressed the need to take the fight to ISIS and to adjust the underlying conditions in order to avoid “fighting the same war twenty years from now.”
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, the only member in the House of Representatives from Connecticut to vote in favor of the bill, said in a statement that the bill balances between supporting Obama in his vision while also allowing for Congressional oversight.
Once the amendment passed nationally with a 273-156 vote, the House voted on the Syrian issue again as part of a larger continuing resolution bill, which would provide funding for the government until Dec. 11. While DeLauro and Larson voted against the CR, Courtney, Esty and Himes voted in favor, despite the fact that Esty and Himes had voted against the Syria amendment. The House approved the CR bill, 319-108.
“Should the government shut down? No,” Himes said. He added that he had articulated his views on the arming and training of Syrian rebels to the House, but he decided to vote in favor in order to ensure that the government would stay open. Had the bill not passed, the government wouldn’t have been funded for the upcoming months.
The amendment was then sent to the Senate as part of the CR legislation.
In the Senate, Sen. Chris Murphy voted against the CR bill while Sen. Richard Blumenthal voted for the bill. In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Senate approved the bill, 78-22.
“Inaction against ISIL is unacceptable,” Blumenthal said in a statement using an alternate name for the group. “This savage terrorist organization is a clear and urgent threat. This narrow authorization enables training of moderate Syrians to fight ISIL in their own country.”
On the other hand, Murphy, who had expressed concerns about the bill from the beginning, reaffirmed his doubts in a statement. “I simply don’t believe an effective strategy to combat ISIL requires America to get more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war,” he said.
Congress will revisit this issue in December when the CR bill expires.