Boehner Says He'll Give Obama What He Wants on ISIL

Office of the Speaker of the House

In an exceedingly rare statement from a top congressional Republican, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that Congress should give President Obama what he wants to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

"Frankly, we ought to give the president what he's been asking for," Boehner told reporters at a Capitol press conference, a day after Obama addressed the nation on his plan to defeat ISIS.

The president is only asking lawmakers to approve a limited portion of his strategy – authorization to arm Syrian rebels and the relatively paltry sum of $500 million to do it.

But just because Boehner supports that request doesn't mean he's happy with Obama's overall strategy.

He said Thursday that he and other House Republicans have concerns on a range of areas about the plan the president laid out. Many of them – the speaker included – don't feel Obama's plan for a limited U.S. military campaign goes far enough.

"I'm not sure we're doing all we can to defeat ISIL," Boehner said, using the administration's preferred acronym for the Islamic State.

In particular, he criticized the president's insistence that the fight could be won with air power alone.

"An F-16 is not a strategy," Boehner said. As for Obama's declaration that the U.S. would not send combat forces onto Iraqi soil, the speaker responded: "Well, somebody's boots have to be on the ground."

When the House might vote on the president's request remains up in the air. Republicans lawmakers met to discuss the request Thursday morning and then the entire House received a classified briefing from the administration.

GOP leaders had planned to tuck the authorization into a stopgap spending bill Congress has to pass before the end of the month, but some members want to have a separate vote on any matter dealing with ISIS.

Boehner said no decisions had been made, and the earliest Congress is likely to vote is next week.

The speaker also said he wanted Obama to formally ask for a full authorization of his military campaign against ISIS, but the president has said that with the exception of the language on arming Syrian rebels, he has all the authority he needs.

While a few vulnerable Democratic senators were balking at Obama's request, his party's leadership quickly fell in line.

Senate leaders called for the swift passage of the new authority, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said Obama had "set us on the right course to keep us safe from ISIS."

If Democrats and Republicans can't come together to keep us safe from terrorism, I don’t know what will bring us together.

Dysfunction, Schumer added, "must stop at the water's edge."

In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not dispute Obama's contention that he had authority to go after ISIS without Congress's say-so.

What the president is doing now I think he has the legal authority to do. I know he does.

She said including the authorization for arming the rebels in the spending bill would be fastest way to get it done, because, in the parlance of the Capitol, "that's the train leaving the station."

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