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House Approves Bill To Train, Arm Syrian Rebels


The House of Representatives has approved a bill allowing the U.S. military to train and arm Syrian rebels in the fight against the militant group calling itself the Islamic State. The House scheduled a full six hours of debate and debate they did. NPR's Tamara Keith was listening to that debate and joins me now. And, Tamara, what was the flavor? Give us the sense of the tone of that debate today.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: You know, it was a really interesting, in some ways tortured, debate. This is one of those solemn responsibilities of Congress and these members were taking a vote of conscience. And it wasn't an easy vote for them. And so I put together a little sampling of some of the voices in the debate and let's play it now.

CONGRESSMAN CHARLIE DENT: We're short of in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

CONGRESSMAN TULSI GABBARD: We've heard this story before, we know how it ends. Look at Iraq. Look at Libya.

CONGRESSMAN THOMAS MASSEY: What is our long-term strategy? What will this ultimately cost? What are the unintended consequences that may come about?

CONGRESSMAN KEVIN MCCARTHY: Voting against this request would send a terrible message that America is unwilling to stand with those who are already fighting a common enemy.

KEITH: Those were Republicans Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii - who is an Iraq war veteran - Republican Thomas Massey from Kentucky and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. I think Dent summed it up best when he said those who are voting for this measure will do so with reluctance and those voting no will do so with discomfort.

BLOCK: And, Tamara, as predicted, this vote did seem to break apart the usual alliances and the usual party loyalties.

KEITH: There were a lot of surprises. You have members of the progressive caucus on the left voting yes. You have some Republicans voting no because it goes too far, others because it doesn't go far enough. You have people like Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi who - or Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who firmly opposed the Iraq war urging her fellow Democrats to vote for arming and training the Syrian rebels because it's a vote for a Democratic president and his strategy. Interestingly, though, the leadership was united on this with both Democrats and Republicans in both houses coming together, but under the surface there among the rank-and-file, it was a really tough and conflicted vote.

BLOCK: Tough and conflicted, but in the end, as we say, the measure did pass.

KEITH: It pasted , not overwhelmingly, but it did pass. More Republicans voted for it then Democrats voted for it, but it was pretty evenly split. It wasn't overwhelming. You know, the president had asked for a strong show of support. It's a relatively strong show of support, but it's not - it wasn't a landslide, let's say. A lot of members had a lot of questions and the Obama administration actually was making calls, the president himself making calls to lobby members to vote for it.

BLOCK: Tam, the Senate is supposed to take this up tomorrow?

KEITH: Yes, and likely much of the same. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell support the measure and they want to make this a low drama fair. It's worth noting that this is only a temporary authorization and Congress will actually have to revisit this debate in December when it expires.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Tamara Keith reporting today from Capitol Hill. Tamara, thanks so much.

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.

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