US House backs Obama and war operations in Syria

The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday to authorize the training and arming of Syrian rebels, backing President Obama after he personally pleaded for support.

The 273-to-156 vote was over a narrow military measure with no money attached, but it took on outsize importance and was infused with drama. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, actively and strongly backed the legislation, and both sought to portray it as a modest measure. The Senate hopes to pass it as soon as Thursday.

“The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission,” President Obama said Wednesday in addressing troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. “I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.”

But the theater around the debate and the vote belied that portrayal. The president, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and top White House officials personally lobbied for the measure’s passage, calling more than 70 Democrats and Republicans on national security committees and in leadership posts to appeal for their support. Mr. Obama and his allies pleaded with lawmakers not to cut his legs out from under him as he tries to assemble an international coalition to confront the terrorist group.

“Obama is our commander in chief,” said Representative C. A. (Dutch) Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “You don’t weaken the commander in chief when we’re in a serious crisis.”

Opponents in both parties framed the vote as a step toward a wider war in a region where American troops have been fighting for more than a decade. Republican and Democratic vote-counting operations said they would not press for “yes” on what they termed a “vote of conscience.”

“Launching airstrikes on another country, by any standard, by any definition, is an act of war,” said Representative Rick Nolan, Democrat of Minnesota. “Have we not had enough of imperial presidencies doing what they want in the world?”

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