WASHINGTON — Three Minnesotans from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum voted against a measure to train and arm Syria rebel factions in their fight against Islamic State militants on Wednesday.
The U.S. House passed the amendment 273 to 156, attaching it to a larger bill to fund the government through mid-December, which itself passed easily. Among Minnesotans, Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum and Rick Nolan and Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann opposed the measure. The Senate is expected to take up the package before Congress leaves on a pre-election recess at the end of the week.
The provision takes care of at least one component of President Obama’s plan to fight ISIS (or ISIL) terrorists in the Middle East — funding and arming rebels in Syria.
Nolan has long been opposed to wading into any conflicts in the Middle East. In a Tuesday floor speech, he said the United States should focus on targeting terrorists that attack or kill Americans, but not fund or undertake a long-term mission against them.
“We have given arms to every element in this conflict with the notion that somehow the enemy of our enemy is our friend, and at the end of the day we have no friends in this conflict,” he said. “It’s time for this Congress to step up and assume it’s responsibility.”
McCollum said ISIS represents a “national security threat” but said she couldn’t support spending on rebel fighting forces in Syria while the country’s northern neighbor Turkey has done little to police the border (The New York Times has more details).
“Until Turkey is willing to secure its border, any amount of training that we do with rebel forces in Syria will be offset by the flow of oil that’s being smuggled back and forth over the Turkish border, the terrorists that we know are crossing the border, the money that we know is going to ISIL across the border,” she said.
In a statement, Bachmann warned that some of Syria’s rebel forces have already aligned with terrorist groups. She slammed Obama for taking “half-measures” against ISIS.
“Either the United States chooses to decisively defeat this brutal evil with all available resources, or we will have to answer the next generation’s questions regarding why we failed to defeat the totalitarian evil of our day,” she said.
Nevertheless, the measure earned support from majorities in both parties. Democratic and Republican leadership backed the bill, including minority leader Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker John Boehner, who cast a rare vote to help pass the bill.
“There is no place for ISIL to exist in a just world,” Rep. Tim Walz, who supported the measure, said in a statement. “We must take proactive action to assist our allies around the globe to degrade and destroy ISIL and those who sympathize with their unjust cause.”
Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen said he was hesitant to support the measure, and that Obama should come to Congress with a more thorough plan to take on ISIS in the region.
“There are a lot of bad options on the table,” he said. But, “the option of doing nothing is not an option.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry