President Barack Obama got finally something that seems to have eluded him since he began his second term in office: he got some Republicans in Congress to agree with him.
Obama had been eviscerated by the GOP in recent months for what critics called his sluggish and muted response to the growing threat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But as statements poured in from both sides of the Capitol Dome after his Wednesday night address on the terror threat, the responses – even, and in some cases, especially from Republicans – were generally positive, even as they pushed the president not to limit military options in the region.
"What the president is asking for as the commander in chief is the authority to train these Syrian rebels, and frankly, we ought to give the president what he's asking for," House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday morning, after warning that many Republicans still believe the White House should take further action to address the threat.
"While we strongly disagree with President Obama that America is safer today than five years ago, his speech tonight got some key things right."
House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers of Michigan, one of the president’s toughest critics on foreign policy, said Obama is to be “commended for his decision” to take action against ISIS, including in Syria.
“The President’s plan announced this evening is an encouraging step in the right direction,” he said in a statement, adding that he will be reviewing the details of the strategy’s implementation.
Two of the Senate’s most hawkish members, hawkish Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, also offered some cautious praise.
“While we strongly disagree with President Obama that America is safer today than five years ago, his speech tonight got some key things right. He explained to the American people why we must confront ISIS,” they wrote in a Wednesday night statement. “He described the correct goal – to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. He laid out the elements of a comprehensive strategy to achieve this goal, all of which we have long championed. And he explained the need to hit ISIS wherever it is, although the need to do so in Syria is more urgent than the President conveyed.”
The encouraging words from both parties – including from congressional leaders like staunchly conservative Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and anti-war progressive House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – signal that Obama seems to have sufficient congressional support to win a vote of confidence from Congress, something the White House wants before lawmakers recess for the midterm elections.
The most noteworthy political division after the president’s speech actually appears to be coming from embattled Senate Democrats who are facing tough races in November.
While some Democrats telegraphed support for Obama’s plan – with some caveats – other vulnerable members of the party warned that the strategy could slip into an open-ended ground conflict in the region.
“The American people must be assured that we are not pursuing another open-ended conflict in the Middle East, and I will not give this president — or any other president — a blank check to begin another land war in Iraq,” said Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, a state that’s trended blue in recent election cycles. “As we have seen in the past, American boots on the ground cannot stamp out an extreme ideology, and the Iraqis must take responsibility for defending their own people.”
Democrat Mark Begich, who is trying to hold on to his Senate seat in Alaska, said that “the U.S. can't continue to foot the bill of Middle East conflicts and the nations in the region need to step up in a meaningful way. After over a decade of costly war, many Alaskans are rightfully wary of putting combat troops on the ground.”
But other Democrats – like Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Al Franken of Minnesota – indicated that they’re on board with the president’s plan, even if they want more answers about its implementation.
“Outlining a strategy tonight was a start,” Shaheen said, adding “as I have made clear, I will continue to press the President to use all of the tools at his disposal, short of ground combat troops, to defeat ISIS."