Sen. Fischer: 'We Are Not Being Honest With the American People'

Susan Jones | September 17, 2014 | 6:41am EDT
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Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) (AP File Photo)

( - Congress should stay in session and have a "full debate" on the Obama administration's request for $500 million to equip and train the so-called moderate Syrian rebels, because while this is the first funding request, it won't be the last, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) told the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

"As we look at this request, I believe it should be separate from the CR (continuing resolution)," Fischer said.

"I think Congress should have a full debate on it. I know you probably have nothing to say on how we do our business here, but I believe we need to be honest with the American people on what lies ahead. And with the request as it is, we are not being honest with the American people. If we truly are going to defeat ISIL, to degrade them and defeat them, it's not just this one request."

Fischer asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, "Do you anticipate that the president will be sending more (funding) requests to Congress, and if so, when may we expect to see those?"

"If it was a perfect world, and we didn't have the time constraints that we were under, and you weren't all scheduled to go out of session here in a couple of days... I agree, this deserves -- should have -- a thorough hearing of the American people," Hagel replied.

"If I could just interrupt you on that," Fischer interjected: "Just because we're scheduled -- just because we're scheduled to go out on Thursday, we don't have to go out on Thursday, do we sir?"

"Well, that's not a decision for me to make...that falls clearly on your side of the dais," Hagel said. "But that said, if we would not get the (funding) authority now, we would lose a considerable amount of time. And I know it's imperfect, it was never meant to jam anyone or to put anybody in a tough spot, but in my opinion...time is of the essence here, and when the Congress comes back -- and obviously when you come back, I assume there will have been an election... and there will be a debate, there should be a debate about this.

"As to your question, what further requests might be coming, Senator. Right now, the president has been as straightforward and honest with you, with the American people as I have been. There's no hidden agenda here or waiting for another shoe to drop ... I can't guarantee  you at all -- I don't think you would want your Secretary of Defense to say, 'I'm sorry, this is the end, no more.'"

Hagel noted that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified that he will recommend additional military capability, including embedding U.S. troops with Iraqi combat troops, if and when he thinks it's needed.

Just because Congress is scheduled to leave town on Thursday doesn't mean it should happen, Fischer said.

"When I traveled the state (Nebraska) for three weeks in August, all across the state, for the first time I heard Nebraskans talk about foreign policy and ask questions about foreign policy," Fischer said. "People in Nebraska are focused on this, they know it's a concern, they are frightened, but they want this addressed in a way that we know the enemy is going to be defeated. And they expect us to do our job. And if that means staying here longer, then we need to do that."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he agrees "wholeheartedly" with Fisher that "we should stay here" and debate President Obama's request for $500 million, separate from the debate surrounding a continuing resolution.

"It's a big enough issue for us to have a policy discussion and not be tied into the funding discussion that we're going to have with the CR," Manchin said.

In response to a question from Fischer, Dempsey said it would take three to five months to establish a training program for some 5,000 Syrian rebels and up to 12 months to make them battle-ready.

Dempsey said in many cases, the rebels have been driven out of their homes and villages by ISIL or by the Assad regime: "So we think we'll be recruiting mostly from displaced populations, and therefore, it won't be as though they're giving up the security of their families to come and train with us."

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