WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama praised a House vote Wednesday granting him authority for the U.S. military to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels, calling it an important step toward confronting the Islamic State group.
The Republican-controlled House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize the program. Final approval in the Senate was expected Thursday.
Obama said in a statement that the House vote shows there's bipartisan support for a critical component of his strategy to confront Islamic State extremists, who have seized territory in Iraq and Syria. He said the training won't be conducted in Syria and U.S. military personnel won't be on the ground in Syria as part of the program, adding that the U.S. has learned from fighting al-Qaida that it's better to use America's capabilities to help partners on the ground defend themselves.
At a White House picnic later Wednesday for members of Congress and their families, Obama singled out House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for helping shepherd the legislation quickly through the House. He said the U.S. had gone through a difficult time recently with terrorist attacks and the financial crisis, but said the House vote showed that "when it comes to America's national security, America is united."
Seeking to build on the brief moment of bipartisanship, Obama said if Republicans and Democrats can come together over the Islamic State threat, there's no doubt they can work together to improve schools, cure diseases and rebuild the nation's infrastructure.
"Hopefully a picnic like this reminds us there's a lot of people around the country counting on us to work together," Obama said as lawmakers noshed on hotdogs and ice cream sundaes. "Today, I think on national security, at least, we showed them we could."
Obama met Wednesday with his national security team to discuss the threat of foreign terrorist fighters to the U.S. homeland and other nations, and the administration's response, the White House said. The meeting followed a presidential visit to U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, where Obama reaffirmed his opposition to sending U.S. troops into ground combat against the Islamic State group.