President Obama has not asked for Congressional authority to use force in Syria, relying upon the 13-year old resolution that authorized President Bush to wage war against Al Qaeda. In my view, this is a terrible mistake. There should be some buy-in from Congress and debate. The closest we have had to a vote by Congress to show support for the President's action in this war is a vote on House Joint Resolution 124 which is a continuing resolution that authorizes continued funded for a lot of agencies and programs. Included in this is was this language:
(a) The Secretary of Defense is authorized, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, and sustainment, to appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups and individuals for the following purposes:
(1) Defending the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and securing territory controlled by the Syrian opposition.
(2) Protecting the United States, its friends and allies, and the Syrian people from the threats posed by terrorists in Syria.
(3) Promoting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria.The resolution also contains requirements and time period of what must be reported back to Congress. In the House, the amendment to add the Syrian section passed by a vote of 273-156. Republican voted in favor 159 and 71 opposed and Democrats voted 114 in favor and 85 opposed. That is, 69% of the Republicans voted to support the President's policy and only 57% of the Democrats. Here is how the Tennessee House delegation voted:
Yea R Roe, Phil TN 1st
Nay R Duncan, John TN 2nd
Yea R Fleischmann, Chuck TN 3rd
No Vote R DesJarlais, Scott TN 4th
Nay D Cooper, Jim TN 5th
Yea R Black, Diane TN 6th
Yea R Blackburn, Marsha TN 7th
Nay R Fincher, Stephen TN 8th
Yea D Cohen, Steve TN 9th
As you can see, there is not an ideological divide on this issue with the most liberal member of the Tennessee delegation, Steve Cohen, voting with Republicans like Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black. On the other hand, the very conservative John Duncan voted "no" as did Democrat Jim Cooper.
This had to be a difficult vote. It is going to be hard to vet the forces we are training if we are not embedded with those forces. Also, as I continue to listen to experts discuss the matter, it is going to be difficult to vet the factions to ensure they are moderate. The Free Syrian Army seems like the most moderate and viable of the factions but it is not clear that they are reliable and it they are defeated by ISIL, then those arms would fall into ISIL hands. I can see opposing this amendment because it does not do enough, however if I was in the Congress I would reluctantly have voted for it.
Among the House Republicans who voted "No" there were not any high profile Republicans except Trey Gordy. Among Republicans voting "yes" were Paul Ryan, Steve King, and Tom Cotton.
In the final vote on the bill as amended in the House was 319 to 108 with Republicans voting in favor 176 to 50 and Democrats voting in favor 143 to 55. In the Tennessee delegation, Marsha Blackburn changed to a "no" vote, otherwise they voted the same as they did on the amendment.
In the Senate, there was not a separate vote on the amendment, but only on the final bill. It passed 78-22, with 33 Republicans voting in favor and 12 voting "no," and among Democrats a 44 to 9 vote in favor. Both Senators Alexander and Corker voted in favor. Prominent Republicans who voted "no" included Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeff Sessions, and Mike Lee. Marco Rubio voted in favor.