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LI House members back Obama's Syria plan, with skepticism

WASHINGTON -- All five Long Island representatives in the U.S. House voted Wednesday to approve President Barack Obama's plan to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State militant group -- but not without misgivings.

Most of the lawmakers said they had concerns about whether the president's strategy will work, and many said they worried that U.S. military materiel sent to Syrian rebels could end up in the wrong hands.

"There are no guarantees here," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). "It is fair to say that even among those of us who are supporting the strategy that there is skepticism."

The $500 million Syrian aid measure passed as an amendment to a bill to keep the government running through Dec. 15 in a bipartisan 273-to-156 vote. There were large defections from both parties in a tense midterm election year.

Of the 21 New York House Democrats, just nine -- including all four from Long Island -- voted yes. Five of the six New York Republicans voted for it.

Regarding his no vote, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) said, "Congress must assert its constitutional power to authorize or reject the use of force in Iraq and Syria. But we are not being asked to authorize a new conflict. . . . Therein lays the danger."

Bishop, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) spoke in favor of the measure on the House floor. Israel also circulated a letter among Democrats urging them to vote yes.

"You have people who are beheading others, and what kind of message does it send to beheaders if we put our head in the sand?" Israel said in a telephone interview.

He called the amendment "appropriate, restrained and reasonable," adding, "It has enough checks and balances to ensure we don't get into a vague and open-ended commitment" in Iraq and Syria.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said, "I don't see any other alternative at this point, other than do nothing."

But the Long Island Democrats and King split on sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.

Obama has approved sending 1,600 U.S. troops as advisers and for intelligence but Wednesday repeated his vow not to send combat troops.

"Invading with U.S. ground forces is not an option," Bishop said. Israel said, "The resolution doesn't stipulate ground forces. Right now there is no need for U.S. ground forces."

King said the plan is to train 5,000 Syrian rebels, but the Pentagon said Islamic State has between 15,000 and 30,000 troops in the region. "The president should be doing more," he said, in part by embedding more U.S. troops with Iraqi forces.

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