ISIS and the Campaign Trail: Dem Incumbent Votes Against Obama, While GOP Senate Challenger Backs President

Dan Sullivan, the Republican trying to oust U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), has come down on the side of President Obama, while Begich has voted against the White House on the idea of arming vetted members of the Free Syrian Army who want to fight ISIS, a proposition that was attached to a $1 trillion continuing resolution.

The House voted first by a margin of 273-256, with majorities in both Republican and Democratic caucuses, to support the CR to avert a federal government shutdown Oct. 1. Even hardline Republicans who had voted to shut down the government in the past were ready to vote in favor of the CR this time.

Opposition to the idea of arming the rebels was as bipartisan as was support for the legislation. Democrats tired of war and Republicans who wanted a more aggressive military posture – or wanted to avoid involvement -- voted against it.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) wrote to his Facebook followers the U.S. should have learned a lesson from the 11-year struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The amendment provides few limits on the type of assistance that our government may commit, and the exit out of the civil war is undefined. And given what’s happened in our country’s most recent wars, our leaders seem to have unjustified confidence in their own ability to execute a plan with so many unknowns,” Amash wrote.

Others inside and outside the Beltway, Democrats and Republicans, like Sullivan, came down on the side of the White House.

“I would support the CR because I believe that the ISIS threat to America and our citizens is real, and must be addressed. Moving forward, we need a serious strategy to ultimately destroy ISIS that encompasses all instruments of American power -- diplomatic, finance, military, and above all economic," Sullivan said in a statement released after the House vote.

Begich, who once bragged about being a “thorn in the president’s ass” said he would not vote for the strategy that he considered to be “vague” and “open-ended” when it reached the Senate.

“I object to more American boots on the ground and I see arming the rebels as a troubling potential step in that direction. Once we commit to arming and training forces on the ground, there is a stronger likelihood that we will increase the American presence on the ground to manage those assets,” Begich said.

Begich said he never had a problem with the continuing resolution portion of the package. Begich wanted to continue to support government programs and services. But he has consistently said the U.S. cannot afford to get dragged into another long ground war “that drains our financial resources, especially at a time when we need to rebuild critical infrastructure at home and invest in our economy.”

The Alaska Democrat also said he was disappointed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) packaged the CR with the request for authorization to weaponize Syrian rebels.

“President Obama and Harry Reid refused to do the right thing and separate these two critical issues so the Senate could do the right thing and address each of them individually,” Begich said. “With nearly two weeks until current funding expires, Congress should stay in session to debate these issues separately.”

The CR and the amendment that allowed the president to provide weapons and support to Syrian rebels passed the U.S. Senate 78-22, a day after it cleared the House.

As promised, Begich joined eight Democrats, a dozen members of the GOP Senate caucus and one independent senator in voting against the legislation.

Sullivan may have sided with Obama on the idea of arming moderate Syrian rebels. However, that does not mean the White House will continue to have Sullivan’s support without “a serious strategy to ultimately destroy ISIS” if he does defeat Begich in November.

"The Obama administration has yet to clearly lay out such a strategy and has consistently shown weakness overseas,” said Sullivan, a former U.S. Marine who worked in the State Department under Condoleezza Rice.

The debate over a more aggressive military campaign against ISIS is expected to reach the Senate floor after the November elections. Senate Democrats are expected to look at a broad resolution for the authorization of using military force against ISIS.

The resolution would strictly focus on ISIS, would set a one-year time limit on military action and could prohibit the use of U.S. ground troops.

And with the first Tuesday in November a little over six weeks away, Sullivan used the debate over how to defeat ISIS to take another shot at his opponent.

“Mark Begich has been enabling this weak approach by only focusing on what we shouldn't do and taking options off the table This encourages our enemies,” Sullivan said. “Saying no to everything is not foreign policy. Inaction and signaling to our adversaries what we won’t do has its own consequences.”