House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jerry McNerney were the only greater Bay Area House members who voted Wednesday in favor of President Obama’s plan to beat back the Islamic State in part by training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels.
The House voted 273-156 to add an amendment authorizing Obama’s plans to a short-term spending bill passed shortly after that will keep the federal government operating through mid-December. Voting yes were 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats, while 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans voted no.
Pelosi, D-San Francisco, didn’t whip Democratic votes behind the scenes, but did make a floor speech in favor of the amendment in which she called the Islamic State’s brutality “outside the circle of civilized human behavior.”
“We wish that this action that we’re called upon to do today was not necessary,” Pelosi said. “But the fact is that, with the diplomatic, political and humanitarian foundation that the President has laid out, with the narrowness of the request that he is making to us – it is not pleasant; it is not easy; it is hard – but it really is necessary for the House to approve this.”
A McNerney spokesman didn’t immediately answer an e-mail seeking comment. (See update at bottom.)
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the measure “an important, initial step forward” against a group that “represents a direct threat to the safety and security of the United States, and House Republicans are firmly committed to doing everything we can to help keep America safe.”
But several Bay Area Democrats explained why they couldn’t vote for the plan.
Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, said he supports “the President’s call to dismantle ISIL through robust regional and international partnerships, support for local capacities on the ground, and expanded humanitarian assistance. Arming and training Syrians and Iraqis, and perhaps eventually supporting them with airstrikes, may push back ISIL’s gains. But it will not defeat extremism.”
“There is no lasting military solution to extremism. The only lasting solution is a political solution. One in which the rights and concerns of all religious and cultural groups are respected,” Honda said. “The US must focus on building partnerships in the region, and around the world, to encourage moderate Sunni groups in Iraq and Syria to move away from ISIL, and towards an alternative and inclusive future.”
“Simply arming the Syrian opposition groups comes with great risk,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, said in a statement issued after the vote. “Instead, we need a comprehensive strategy that includes a debate and vote in Congress that specifically authorizes the use of force against ISIL, and the involvement of a broad, international coalition of Muslim and Western countries to diminish ISIL and degrade their organizational capabilities.”
“To defeat ISIL, I support U.S. led airstrikes and the building of a real, substantive coalition of regional allies who will stand up to defend their own countries and existence. I do not support putting substantial U.S. resources in, and betting the house on, unproven ‘moderate’ Syrian fighters,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, said in an e-mailed statement. “Over the course of U.S. military history, this proxy-war approach has had disastrous results and no evidence in this case has convinced me the result would be any different.”
“I agree with the President’s decision to remove the threat created by ISIS but the plan laid out by the White House is still too vague,” Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, said in his statement. “I could not support the amendment without clear answers to how that threat will be removed and exactly what the United States role will be. ISIS remains a roadblock in creating stability in the region and they must be stopped. However, I am fearful today’s vote does not bring us closer to our ultimate goal of peace.”
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, issued a statement saying the vote “was not, as some have argued, a choice between supporting the President’s plan and simply doing nothing about ISIL. To be clear, I share President Obama’s assessment of ISIL as a brutal terrorist organization, I support the goal of destroying them, and I believe there should be an American role in a broad, multinational response to ISIL.
“My ‘no’ vote today is because this plan for a new American-led war in Iraq and Syria is being advanced without a proper congressional authorization as required by the Constitution, and because I believe the strategic assumptions underlying the plan are deeply flawed,” Huffman said. “Frankly, we should know better than to provide arms and training to fighters we know very little about – and what we do know is troubling. We should know better than to take the lead in fighting and funding this war without a real multinational coalition where the countries most impacted by the ISIL threat carry their fair share of the risk and cost. And we should know better than to do all of this on the basis of wishful assumptions and rosy assurances that the conflict will not escalate out of control.”
UPDATE 5:24 P.M.: McNerney just emailed me a statement saying that “taking military action is the gravest responsibility of our government, and I take my role in helping decide our nation’s policy very seriously.
“I support the current plan to engage and ultimately destroy ISIL, but it won’t be successful unless we can enlist an alliance of nations within the region that are fully and demonstrably committed to true democratic inclusion and are willing to fight for their own freedom,” he said, including training potential allied military units off the battlefield and arming competent and reliable allies.
“Meanwhile, the President must demonstrate America’s commitment to the region by using very limited American air power in conjunction with local military units to help prevent additional ISIL territorial gains. I do not support the involvement of American ground troops beyond their training mission, or the excessive use of American air power. Both of these are not needed and would likely be counterproductive in the end,” McNerney continued. “While I supported this amendment, I also urged my colleagues to consider the long-term effects of authorizing force: to our soldiers, to the innocent civilians, and to sustained stability in the Middle East.”