House grudgingly approves arms for Syrian rebels

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House grudgingly approves arms for Syrian rebels
Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to shore up President Barack Obama's strategy to combat Islamic State group extremists in Iraq and Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Obama reaffirmed Wednesday that he does not intend to send U.S. troops into combat against the Islamic State group, despite doubts about the ability of Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and Syrian rebels to carry out the ground fight on their own. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Secretary of State John Kerry rubs his eyes as he appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to shore up President Barack Obama's strategy to combat Islamic State group extremists in Iraq and Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. President Barack Obama reaffirmed Wednesday that he does not intend to send U.S. troops into combat against the Islamic State group, despite doubts about the ability of Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and Syrian rebels to carry out the ground fight on their own. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 file photo, Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam speaks to the media at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon. On Sunday, Sept. 14, Salam traveled to the Qatari capital of Doha and held talks with senior officials there. Qatar is a major backer of Syrian rebel groups. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
In this Sept. 11, 2014, photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lawmakers raced Monday, Sept. 15, to authorize an expanded mission to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels before heading back to the campaign trail, with House Republicans preparing legislation backing a central plank of President Barack Obama's strategy against the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The House majority leader said he anticipates bipartisan support for a measure granting President Barack Obama's request to arm and equip Syrian rebels under an approach that lets skeptical lawmakers register their concerns. Under the plan, the Defense Department and State Department would be required to report to Congress 15 days before putting its proposal into effect and demonstrate how it would work. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The House majority leader said he anticipates bipartisan support for a measure granting President Barack Obama's request to arm and equip Syrian rebels under an approach that lets skeptical lawmakers register their concerns. Under the plan, the Defense Department and State Department would be required to report to Congress 15 days before putting its proposal into effect and demonstrate how it would work. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The House majority leader said he anticipates bipartisan support for a measure granting President Barack Obama's request to arm and equip Syrian rebels under an approach that lets skeptical lawmakers register their concerns. Under the plan, the Defense Department and State Department would be required to report to Congress 15 days before putting its proposal into effect and demonstrate how it would work. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A demonstrator from the group CodePink disrupts a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, left, and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The House majority leader said he anticipates bipartisan support for a measure granting President Barack Obama's request to arm and equip Syrian rebels under an approach that lets skeptical lawmakers register their concerns. Under the plan, the Defense Department and State Department would be required to report to Congress 15 days before putting its proposal into effect and demonstrate how it would work. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, center, speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The House majority leader said he anticipates bipartisan support for a measure granting President Barack Obama's request to arm and equip Syrian rebels under an approach that lets skeptical lawmakers register their concerns. Under the plan, the Defense Department and State Department would be required to report to Congress 15 days before putting its proposal into effect and demonstrate how it would work. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An amendment, authorizing aid to Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State terrorist group, to a proposed continuing resolution H. J. Res. 124, is arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The amendment, offered by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, would permit the Defense Department, in consultation with the State Department, to provide training, equipment, supplies and sustainment to 'appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition' and other groups and individuals.
An amendment, authorizing aid to Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State terrorist group, to a proposed continuing resolution H. J. Res. 124, is arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The amendment, offered by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, would permit the Defense Department, in consultation with the State Department, to provide training, equipment, supplies and sustainment to 'appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition' and other groups and individuals.
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By DAVID ESPO & DONNA CASSATA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican-controlled House voted grudgingly to give the U.S. military authority to train and arm Syrian rebels on Wednesday as President Barack Obama emphasized anew that American forces "do not and will not have a combat mission" in the struggle against Islamic state militants.

The 273-156 vote crossed party lines to an unusual degree in a Congress marked by near ceaseless partisanship. Top Republican and Democratic leaders backed the plan seven weeks before midterm elections, while dozens of rank and file lawmakers in both parties opposed it.

The provision was added to spending legislation that will assure the federal government operates normally after the Sept. 30 end of the budget year. Final approval is expected in the Senate as early as Thursday.

Even supporters of the plan found little to trumpet. "This is the best of a long list of bad options," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

The president's remarks and similar comments by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California seemed designed to reassure liberal lawmakers that the new military mission would be limited.

Only a day earlier, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drew widespread attention when he told Congress he might recommend the use of U.S. ground combat forces if Obama's current strategy fails to stop the militants.

Across the political aisle from the president and Pelosi, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California swung behind the plan. Yet many members of their rank and file expressed concerns that it would be insufficient to defeat militants who have overrun parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded two American journalists.

GOP lawmakers took solace in the short-term nature of the legislation. It grants Obama authority only until Dec. 11, giving Congress plenty of time to return to the issue in a postelection session set to begin in mid-November.

House Republican leaders arranged to tack the Obama-sought proposal onto a spending bill needed to keep the government operating past the Sept. 30 end of the budget year.

Approval would send the overall legislation to the Senate for all-but-certain final passage. Yet there, seven weeks before the elections, it seemed likely that no separate yes-or-no vote would be held on Obama's new military strategy to train rebel forces in Saudi Arabia to be used in conjunction with potential U.S. airstrikes.

Instead, the Senate is likely to vote only once on the legislation combining approval for arming and training rebels with the no-shutdown federal spending provisions.

Officials put a $500 million price tag on Obama's request to train and equip rebels. The cost generated virtually no discussion among lawmakers, who focused instead on the possible consequences of a new military mission not long after America ended participation in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Testifying before a Senate Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry said the forces seeking to create an Islamic state " must be defeated. Period. End of story."

There was little, if any dissent on that, but debate aplenty about the best way to accomplish it.

"We simply don't know if somewhere down the line it will turn our guns back against us," said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., giving voice to a fear that rebels seeking the removal of Syrian president Bashar Assad would eventually prove unreliable allies.

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California expressed a different concern. "Committing insufficient force in any conflict is self-defeating, and airstrikes alone cannot win a war," he said.

The day's developments unfolded as Dempsey's day-old remarks reverberated around the globe.

U.S. troops "will support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists," Obama told officers at U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military efforts in the Middle East. He added that "As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq."

Vice President Joe Biden, asked on a visit to Iowa about Dempsey's comment on the use of ground troops, said the general's "conclusion is that it is not needed now." Biden added: "We'll determine that based on how the effort goes."

Pelosi told reporters the day's House action "is not to be confused with any authorization to go further. ... I will not vote for combat troops to engage in war."

In Baghdad, Iraq's new prime minister told The Associated Press in an interview that his government wants no part of a U.S. ground combat mission. "Not only is it not necessary; we don't want them. We won't allow them," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.

Controversy over a new military mission overshadowed what otherwise might have been a noteworthy accomplishment for a Congress marked by near-constant gridlock. Passage of the legislation would eliminate any possibility of a partial government shutdown like the one Republicans triggered a year ago by trying to zero out Obama's health care program.

The measure also renews the charter of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance purchases of U.S. exports. That postpones until next June a battle between tea party forces opposing the bank and business-oriented Republicans who support it.

The legislation also includes $88 million to combat the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

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