5 of Minnesota's 8 House members vote to arm Syrian rebels


The U.S. House voted Wednesday to spend $5 billion to arm and train Syrian rebels fighting against the Islamic State group, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL. Five of Minnesota's eight representatives supported the measure.

The amendment passed 273-156 and was attached to a government funding bill. MPR News reports much of the House debate preceding the vote centered on whether there are reliable American allies within the group that will receive the aid, the Free Syrian Army.

The three Minnesotans who voted against the measure were Democrats Rick Nolan and Betty McCollum and Republican Michele Bachmann. The Star Tribune notes it's rare to find Bachmann and Nolan voting the same way – which reflects the odd blend of bedfellows that opposed the amendment.

MinnPost reports Nolan is a longtime critic of U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts. He expressed his opposition to funding Syrian rebels during a floor speech on Tuesday, saying:

“We have given arms to every element in this conflict with the notion that somehow the enemy of our enemy is our friend, and at the end of the day we have no friends in this conflict.”

Bachmann, on the other hand, argued the Obama administration is taking half measures in the fight against Islamic State. She maintained in a statement that the U.S. should "decisively defeat this brutal evil with all available resources."

Voting in favor of the measure were Democrats Tim Walz, Collin Peterson and Keith Ellison, as well as Republicans Erik Paulsen and John Kline.

Ellison of Minneapolis, who represents the 5th District, said in his statement that the training of rebel fighters will occur outside of Syria, keeping American troops away from the battlefields. Ellison added "...we cannot stand on the sidelines while thousands of innocent lives are lost. The Syrian rebels can be an effective force against the spread of ISIL.”

Although Paulsen of Eden Prairie, who represents the 3rd District, supported the amendment to fund the rebel group, he expressed some reluctance about it. Paulsen's statement says he's concerned about the administration's ability to vet opposition forces to ensure the groups being trained are aligned with U.S. interests.

MinnPost quotes Paulsen as saying, "There are a lot of bad options on the table." But "the option of doing nothing is not an option."

A Senate vote is expected Thursday. Sen. Al Franken told the Star Tribune Wednesday he is concerned about arming Syria and had not decided how he would vote.

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