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Posts in "Syria"
September 29, 2014
Five weeks and one day before the midterm elections, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer made the case for Democrats to retake control of the House, delivering a scathing takedown of Republican leadership in the process.
In a Monday morning speech at the National Press Club, the House’s No. 2 Democrat mocked Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, for recently boasting that the House under GOP rule is so transparent “you can even bring your iPad on the floor.”
“That may be the case,” Hoyer scoffed, “but you can’t bring a bill to raise the minimum wage to the floor. Or to extend unemployment insurance. Or to extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. You can’t bring a bipartisan bill to fix our broken immigration system.” Full story
September 25, 2014
Speaker John A. Boehner thinks Congress should debate authorizing use of force against the Islamic State in Syria — but not until new members of the House and Senate take office in January.
The Ohio Republican told The New York Times in an interview published Thursday morning the lame-duck session following the midterms in November would not be an appropriate time to make those decisions.
“Doing this with the whole group of members who are on their way out the door, I don’t think that is the right way to handle this,” Boehner told the Times.
That statement is sure to rankle many members on both sides of the aisle who had hoped the House would weigh in as soon as possible on President Barack Obama’s decision to use airstrikes to target the terrorist organization, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Full story
September 23, 2014
The United States has begun a bombing campaign in Syria, but don’t bet on Congress returning to Washington to vote on a new war authorization anytime soon.
Shortly after airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria started, some lawmakers started pushing again for an authorization vote. But so far, leaders aren’t gearing up to bring their members back to town.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., tweeted Monday night it was “irresponsible and immoral” that congressional leaders had chosen to recess for nearly two months instead of debating and voting on war. And the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, released a statement saying it’s “time for Congress to step up and revise the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force in a way that supports the targeted actions underway, but also prevents the deployment of American ground forces that would drag us into another Iraq War.”
Van Hollen tweeted that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, should call the House back to debate a new Authorization to Use Military Force.
Boehner’s office deferred to the White House when asked about the issue. Full story
September 17, 2014
House Democratic leaders aren’t whipping votes on the continuing resolution and an amendment to give President Barack Obama authority to arm Syrian rebels against the terrorist group the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi used her regularly-scheduled Wednesday morning news conference to make an impassioned case for members to support their president.
“I don’t know how the vote will turn out,” the California Democrat said. “It’s not a vote we whip. We just don’t whip war votes. But I do think that, as members weigh the factors, that they will, I think, give points to the president for all that he has done, diplomatically, politically, humanitarian-wise and ask for this distinct piece.” Full story
September 16, 2014
Despite lingering reservations on both sides of the aisle, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats is coming together behind proposals to arm Syrian rebels and fund the government beyond Sept. 30.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer confirmed Tuesday that, despite some provisions his colleagues don’t like — namely a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank through only June 30, 2015 — Hoyer and a significant bloc of Democrats would not withhold their support on the continuing resolution. “You don’t get perfect,” Hoyer told reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing.
The Maryland Democrat also said Democrats would support an amendment proposal from Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., that would give the Obama administration the authority it requested to arm and train Syrian rebels in order to combat Islamic terrorists.
With the support from Democrats, passage of the CR and adoption of the Syria amendment look increasingly assured. There are plenty of remaining concerns regarding the trustworthiness of the Syrian rebels. But with Republican and Democratic leadership supporting the measure — not to mention the White House, which has been calling members to drum up support for the proposal — passage of the CR does not appear to be in doubt. Full story
September 15, 2014
After postponing consideration last week of a stop-gap spending measure to fund the government past Sept. 30, House GOP leaders are poised in the days ahead to bring that same piece of legislation to the floor.
That vote, however, will now likely be coupled with consideration of an amendment to the underlying bill that would authorize the Obama administration to train and arm Syrian rebels against the insurgent terrorist organization known as the Islamic State or ISIS.
This bifurcated approach would make it considerably easier for members — on both sides of the aisle — to vote against the ISIS language but not the continuing resolution, taking off the table the threat of a revolt large enough to risk another government shutdown. Full story
September 11, 2014
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said Thursday afternoon that he expects Congress will vote next week to grant President Barack Obama authority to arm Syrian rebels against the insurgent terrorist group known as the Islamic State or ISIS.
But the Maryland Democrat also said he expected that that vote wouldn’t be Congress’s last word on the subject.
“I believe a two-step process is what we will, I think, pursue,” Hoyer told CQ Roll Call and the Washington Post on Thursday during a taping of the C-SPAN program “Newsmakers,” set to air on Sunday morning. “I think there will be consideration of the president’s request to train and equip regional players.”
Then, after the elections, Hoyer said he anticipated “consideration of a larger authorization for the use of military force.”
August 27, 2014
More House lawmakers are warning President Barack Obama he needs to articulate a broader anti-terrorism strategy — and consult with Congress on that plan — before ramping up military action against anti-U.S. jihadists in northern Iraq and Syria.
Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif. is the most recent member to release such a statement after the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria executed American photojournalist James Foley last week.
“I challenge the President to engage Congress,” McKeon said in his statement Wednesday. “I’m willing to work with him.”
McKeon added, however, that while a plan to address ISIS’s growing power “may well require additional authorities from Congress … speculation about that before the President has even offered a strategy is putting the cart before the horse.”
Barack Obama, McKeon continued, “need[s] … to explain to the American people what is at stake, what our objectives are, and the strategy for how to achieve them. Only after we understand all this can we contemplate what new authorities might be needed.” Full story
December 30, 2013
This year, doing the business of the People’s House was, at best, a struggle. It’s well-known that 2013 was, legislatively, the least productive session in congressional history. Leaders strained to get to 218 — a majority in the 435-seat House (in case you had no idea where the blog name came from). And there were some pretty notable news stories as a result of all this congressional dysfunction.
But as painful as the year was for members, covering the House was a pleasure, one which we here at 218 only had the honor of doing for about half the year.
In that short time, 218 — or “Goppers,” as we were formerly known, which rhymes with “Whoppers,” for all you still wondering about that — had more than a few favorite stories.
Among the labors of love, there was a piece about the 10 Republicans who could one day be speaker, a story on an internal August playbook that went out to House Republicans telling them to profess how they were fighting Washington, and a piece (in response to his “calves the size of cantaloupes” comment) asking the question: How do you solve a problem like Steve King? Full story
September 19, 2013
Speaker John A. Boehner’s office released a roughly one-minute clip taking a couple of shots at President Barack Obama and illustrating what Republicans in Congress see as a hypocrisy: Obama will negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Syria, but he won’t negotiate with the GOP on the debt ceiling.
The video from the Ohio Republican strikes a sort of too-serious-to-be-funny, too-funny-to-be-serious tone, but it’s interesting political theater — especially when Putin reaches for and inspects what looks to be a cupcake.
While Syria has largely evaporated as an issue in Congress, Republicans apparently feel there are still political points to be won on the matter. And Republicans certainly feel there are political gains to be made in return for raising the debt ceiling.
The White House has repeatedly said it will not negotiate with Congress over paying the bills that it racked up. But Republicans are just as adamant that the White House does negotiate, and they believe Obama’s position is untenable.
House GOP leadership says it has more leverage with the debt ceiling than it does with the continuing resolution — noting polling opposing raising the debt ceiling — and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., laid out a plan Wednesday that would extend the debt limit for one year in return for a one-year delay to Obamacare, the Keystone XL pipeline and other items.
Whatever the end result, the White House and Congress will have to come up with a solution quickly. The U.S. Treasury Department says it will run out of borrowing authority sometime in mid-October.
September 12, 2013
Updated 2:04 p.m. | What did Speaker John A. Boehner think of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times?
“I was insulted,” the Ohio Republican said.
At his Thursday morning news conference with reporters, Boehner reiterated that he had “real doubts about the motives” of the Russians, who earlier this week signaled their interest in facilitating the destruction of all of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile to avert an imminent U.S. military strike against the Syrian government and president Bashar al-Assad.
When asked for his thoughts about Putin’s contribution to The New York Times’ opinion pages, Boehner would not get into specifics.
“There are a lot of ways I could describe this, but it’s probably why I’ve suggested I have doubts about the motives of the Russians and Assad,” he said.
In the op-ed, Putin urged the United States to stand with Russia to work toward a peaceful resolution. Among other things, he argued that “there is every reason to believe [chemical weapons were] used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”
Putin also characterized the United States’ global image “not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan ‘you’re either with us or against us.'”
“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States,” Putin added.
Boehner has supported President Barack Obama in seeking possible military intervention in Syria, calling it an issue of humanitarianism and also in the interest of the nation’s national security.
Obama decided earlier this week to postpone the looming and increasingly unpopular vote in Congress on authorizing use of force while a possible deal with Russian and Syria is worked out.
“I hope a diplomatic solution can be found,” Boehner said.
Update 2:04 p.m.
When Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was asked about the Putin op-ed, she largely passed on commenting.
“It is what it is,” Pelosi said.
Pressed on whether she was frustrated that Putin was the United States’ negotiating partner, Pelosi once again restrained herself.
“It is who it is,” she said. “Assad is part of the negotiations, and he, I think, is clearly a monster.”
September 10, 2013
In a major shift from the hawkish foreign policy Congress rubber-stamped a decade ago, newer members of the House, weary of war and fresh from the town hall circuit, are more than three times as likely to oppose military action in Syria than their more senior colleagues.
House lawmakers first elected in 2010 or 2012 overwhelmingly oppose striking Syria, with 12 leaning toward supporting authorization and 103 lawmakers leaning or outrightly against it.
Of the lawmakers who have publicly stated a position on Syria, a recent House whip count from Firedoglake shows little support for intervention: 29 yes, 31 lean yes, 128 lean no, 105 no.
Lawmakers elected before 2010 are leaning against or opposed to action in Syria by a factor of 2.7 to 1. For members elected in the past two cycles, opposition to action in Syria is 8.5 to 1.
That’s a far cry from the Congress that overwhelmingly backed the Iraq War. And the newer members haven’t been following their leaders, whether it be Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or President Barack Obama.
“We’re reflective of a broader shift in public perception on foreign policy,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., told CQ Roll Call late last week.
“People have seen wars that have dragged on for more than a decade,” he said. “We’re tired of wars without end.”
It was 11 years ago, on Oct. 10, 2002, that 215 Republicans — all but eight — joined 85 Democrats to authorize the use of force in Iraq. At that time, according to a Pew Research Center poll, 62 percent of Americans supported military action to end Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Now, according to the latest CNN poll, more than 80 percent of the public says the Syrian government used chemical weapons, but just 39 percent of Americans support even a limited, no-boots-on-the-ground mission. And if you believe the lawmakers interviewed for this report, at least 90 percent of the constituents who have contacted them are against striking Syria.
Over the course of nearly a dozen interviews with freshman and sophomore lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats repeatedly expressed shifting convictions of the American public — and, correspondingly, a shift in the convictions of the lawmakers who were ushered into Congress to represent them.
The House is supposed to be the “people’s chamber,” where members are elected every two years to reflect the changing will of the public. But why, then, the differing levels of support among members who have spent less time in Washington?
The general answer from the junior lawmakers: They are more “constituent minded” than higher-ranking lawmakers. And the public does not want another war.
“They’re living in a D.C. echo chamber,” Amash said of his more senior colleagues. “If you’ve been here a longer amount of time, you’re not interacting with your constituents.”
Amash gave three reasons he thinks more senior members still support war: They don’t listen to their constituents, they are “tied to special interests,” and their voting record binds them to a foreign policy of yore.
Amash also theorized that longtime lawmakers (with “fatter bank accounts”) had stopped listening to constituents.
Amash said in 11 town halls he held last week — including one at a Burger King — “more than 95 percent” of the people he asked for a show of hands were against intervention in Syria.
And Amash has no qualms about following the wishes of his constituents on a matter as serious as war.
“Of all the issues out there, war is the one where you really need the public behind you, because you’re sending out their loved ones,” Amash said.
Indeed, sophomore Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., expressed a similar thought.
“It’s different when it comes to issues of war. It is not the president that goes to war, it’s not Congress; it’s the American people,” said Cicilline, who is leaning against authorization.
Freshman Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who first served in Congress from 1995 to 2001, said Congress has changed since his first stint.
“It’s not the same ‘go-along, get-along’ crowd,” Salmon said. “A lot of the newer folks that have come in are very constitutionally minded.”
(Freshman Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., expressed nearly the same thought, saying, “You’ve got some really constitutionally minded people elected in the last two cycles.”)
Salmon said the public is “very, very cynical about any kind of war.” And he said the newer members are “a little more dubious” about following leadership.
“The longer you’re in the bubble, the more susceptible you are to the beltway jabber,” Salmon said.
Many members made the point that the difference between junior and senior members wasn’t exclusive to Syria.
“Some of it could be a shift in foreign policy, some of it could be that they represent their constituents more directly,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who was elected in 2012.
Massie cited three votes — on the Amash National Security Agency amendment, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act and the Marketplace Fairness Act (which has yet to receive a vote but has been whipped informally by Massie) — as evidence of his claim that more junior members of Congress are banding together, listening to their constituents and bucking leadership.
Using an extended sports metaphor, Massie said his junior colleagues “all want to be team players,” but leadership — otherwise known as the quarterback — is “calling the wrong plays, going the wrong direction.”
“It’s hard to tackle and block for a quarterback going in the wrong direction,” he said.
“Our leadership is asking us to vote in a way that can really come back to bite us in an election,” Massie said of the Syria resolution.
One sophomore lawmaker, who asked not to be identified as to speak more candidly about the shift, agreed that Syria was politically toxic. The lawmaker theorized that more junior colleagues opposed Syria more aggressively because they are more fearful of losing elections. Senior lawmakers tend to be more insulated from electoral considerations.
Indeed, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a veteran who supports intervention, worried that politics have crept into the decision-making process for members.
“Politics dissipates when you go overseas,” he said.
Kinzinger, who described himself as part of the “post-Iraq generation in Congress,” said that even though the American public seems to oppose intervention in Syria, “I wasn’t elected to not lead.”
Kinzinger suggested that outside groups, which he wouldn’t refer to by name, had had a hand in influencing newer members.
“Somehow Syria has become a purity vote,” he said, noting that there is a “bit of an isolationist thought coming into our party.”
But freshman Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., suggested that the issue was not isolationism; the issue was Syria.
“While I’m a libertarian-leaning conservative, I’m not libertarian, I’m not an isolationist, I’m sure as hell not a dove,” Radel said. He went on to enumerate his concerns with Syria — concerns that echoed many members.
Radel did think, however, there was something unique about the freshman and sophomore members.
“A lot of us came from the private sector,” he said, “meaning we have not always done politics the way it has always been done.”
But while newer members may have a different, closer style of representation, Congress has long been about, as political scientist David Mayhew put it in his 1974 book, “the electoral connection.”
Another Florida lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, knows the lesson well. He was voted into Congress in 2008, voted out in 2010 and has returned for the 113th. He summed up a common thought.
“Recently elected members are well aware of the recent lessons of history. Maybe they,” he said, referring to his more senior colleagues, “haven’t learned it as intensely.”
Correction: 5:34 p.m.
An earlier version of this post misstated how long Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., has been in Congress. He is a sophomore.
Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday it’s Congress’ responsibility to support the president in matters of war and peace — in this case, military intervention in Syria.
“I’ve supported every president that I’ve served under for the last 23 years when it comes to the use of military force,” the Ohio Republican told reporters. “And there’s one person who speaks for the United States of America when it comes to foreign policy, and that’s the president of the United States. So I think it’s critically important that [when] the president goes out on behalf of the American people, members of Congress do everything they can to be supportive of him.
“Now I realize that a lot of mistakes have been made when it comes to this issue of Syria over the last few years, and frankly I understand how war-weary the American people are,” Boehner continued. “But having said all that, I believe it is important to try to help the president provide a unified front in our effort to make it clear that the use of chemical weapons is clearly unacceptable.”
Boehner, whose conference is at this point predominantly opposed to U.S. strikes, also said on Tuesday that he was “skeptical” of news that Russia was prepared to facilitate Syria’s surrender of chemical weapons stockpiles to avert the use of force.
“Clearly diplomacy is always a better outcome than military action. But I will say that I’m somewhat skeptical of those that are involved in the diplomatic discussions today,” Boehner said. “I’m skeptical of it because of the actors that are involved.”
September 9, 2013
President Barack Obama looked to shore up his base on Syria on Monday — personally wooing the Congressional Black Caucus for an hour — as his administration’s all-hands-on-deck lobbying effort efforts continued to struggle to get support from rank-and-file Republicans.
Obama will need most of the CBC on board to get to a majority despite the misgivings of many of their members over a new war in the Middle East.
“He was very frank with us,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and one who describes himself as still undecided. “I didn’t expect one meeting to win over votes. I think everyone’s looking forward to his speech [Tuesday] night, a major speech.”
As for whether Obama — who sat with CBC members for about an hour, according to Cummings — expressed frustration that the fate of the authorization resolution appeared to be in peril in both chambers, Cummings demurred.
“I think the president has already shown strength. He’s the one who’s shown strength. Hello? He’s shown strength. He’s the one who said, ‘let’s go in,'” Cummings said. “He will make the very best case that he can to the Congress and to the country and then it will be up to the Congress to vote.”
CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, sounded open to supporting the president after the meeting.
“President Obama has asked Members of Congress to authorize a military strike on Syria for violating international law in the use of chemical weapons by the government on its people; a request that requires each of us to thoroughly examine the evidence and exhaustively consider the consequences of military action,” she said in a statement. “I encourage Members of the Congressional Black Caucus to be extremely deliberate and thoughtful.”
The administration continued the hard sell at an all-member briefing at the Capitol on Monday — although few appeared to be swayed.
Cummings’ counterpart, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., described himself on Monday evening as “a firm ‘no.'”
Issa said he came out of the briefing with “less answers and more doubt.” Issa questioned some aspects of the intelligence being presented to members and used the opportunity before the microphones to cast doubt on National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who in her prior role as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was blamed by many Republicans for how she portrayed the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
“Additionally — not coincidentally, I guess — Ambassador Rice is in there and let’s understand that a week after Benghazi they were confident a video had caused the attack on our consulate and certainly wasn’t true,” Issa said.
Issa also expressed skepticism about Russia’s new willingness to help avert the need for military intervention: “If the Russians can in this case get weapons out of the hands of all parties, than that’s something we should work out … I think in fairness, Russia will continue to support the Assad administration no matter what they do.
“He’s still an evil man from an evil empire,” Issa added of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin.
Issa suggested that votes in the House and Senate to authorize force in Syria be delayed until stakeholders can see if developments in Russia come to fruition.
But that wasn’t something Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., necessarily supports.
“I personally think there’s value in accelerating the final details on the Russian proposal,” said Ellison. “We should put pressure on the Russian proposal to get finalized. I don’t think the Russian proposal has been made simply because they’ve gotten religion. I think they’ve realized their client is about to face some serious consequences.”
And there’s a “fair chance” that they made this proposal, Ellison added, just for the purposes of delaying U.S. intervention in Syria.
Ellison is in a key position as a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who supports the military force in the region. Many of the caucus members are in opposition, or are at least leaning toward opposition, and his co-chairman, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., has said he won’t support the authorizing resolution.
On Monday night, Ellison said he hadn’t made a decision yet whether to whip votes in the caucus, but that whatever happens he doesn’t expect it will fracture the cohesion of the CPC.
“I’m not really sweating the politics,” Ellison said. “We haven’t made any decision on how we’re going to move forward with this. We have 99 issues we agree on almost 100 percent all the time. This one thing is not gonna divide us.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters after the Monday night briefing that he was still against intervention — and that he still didn’t understand why Congress was involved now in the first place.
“It’s ridiculous they are putting the Congress through this. The White House should never have done this. They’re upping the pressure on the members and there’s no clear objective here as to what the strategy is,” Nunes said.
“The War Powers Act clearly says you should consult the Congress. You never go to Congress for authorization unless you are gonna go to war … I think there would have been people from both parties and the American people would have been upset [had Congress not been consulted] but for the most part when the nation goes to war most of us fall in line and try to support our men and women there in the battlefield.
“He would have had more sense, if he wanted to do a limited strike, to strike quickly and early,” Nunes continued. “Too much time has gone by.”
While the co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus seem to be split on intervention in Syria, both agree on one thing: President Barack Obama has not answered all the questions.
The leaders of the CPC, Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, sent Obama 67 questions on a broad range of topics involving a potential U.S. military strike in Syria, including the national security threat posed by Syria, the evidence of a chemical attack in Syria, who will benefit from U.S. intervention, the temperature of the international community and the cost of a potential strike.
Ellison appears to support intervention, while Grijalva opposes it.
Ellison and Grijalva thanked Obama for making White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough available for questions, but said in their letter, “members of the Caucus have several follow up questions they were not able to ask on the calls.”
“The answers will weigh on Members as they cast their vote,” the CPC letter to Obama said. Full story