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House Armed Services chair ‘hopeful’ Congress will fund president’s Islamic State plan

On Capitol Hill, President Obama’s call to action against Islamic militants was met with qualified support from Congressional leaders. While Democrats praised the president for his decisiveness, Republicans were more wary, noting the administration’s delay in responding to earlier attacks. Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., House Armed Services Committee chairman, offers his reaction to Gwen Ifill.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    For a Republican response from Capitol Hill, I also spoke with House Armed Services Committee Chairmen Buck McKeon of California.

    Congressman McKeon, thank you for joining us.

    You said in a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute that, after last night's speech, the president is — quote — "finally waking up to what must be done to stop this evil." Is it enough?

  • REP. BUCK McKEON, R-Calif.:

    Enough.

    I think it's just barely a start. But it does make a change. You know, it was just a few weeks ago when the president was calling ISIL junior varsity. I think now he's come to the point to realize what the rest of the world realizes, that they are a grave threat.

    I just came back from the Middle East. I met with the leadership over there. They're all very concerned. They want to go after — King Abdullah told me he's ready to go right away. He says, we're ready to fix bayonets and go right now.

    They understand how serious this threat is. I'm glad to see that the president is starting to get that message. But what we're going to have to do is make sure that we go in with an adequate force, that we're very serious about finishing something that we start.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    House Speaker John Boehner said today that we have one commander in chief, and he supports, as far as it goes, the president's initiative so far. Do you agree with him?

  • REP. BUCK McKEON:

    I said in my speech today that as long as the president's engaged and moving on this, I want to support him.

    He is the commander in chief. But he does have military leaders, and he should listen to their advice. And I know that there's been a story reported that the commander of the area asked for more ground troops to give us a more robust position in Iraq. And he was denied that.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, let's talk — I'm sorry.

    I want to talk about the ground troops, because you also said in your talk today that you believe very strongly that there should be ground troops on the ground if we're going to take this on at all.

  • REP. BUCK McKEON:

    Yes, we have tried it without ground troops in Libya. We did air attacks. And now there's chaos there. That didn't work out very well.

    I think most people understand. I met with the commander of — the chief of our Air Force yesterday. And he said, as powerful and as strong as our Air Force is, there's nothing like it in the world, but it does not take and hold ground. They can drive ISIL back. They can make life miserable for them, but at the end of the day, you have to be able to hold and take the ground.

    Now, Iraq has forces that can do this, but they can't do it alone. They can't do it without us. (AUDIO GAP) support. We provide the logistics (AUDIO GAP) things that they will need to successfully carry out missions to take and hold the ground.

    And that's what we need to do. And until the president is fully engaged — and I hope he will be — I hope this doesn't just become a speech last night like we have seen in the past, and then he kind of fades and goes off into something else. This is something he needs to be engaged in. It's the most important thing confronting him as commander in chief. And we need to win on this.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Do you believe that ISIL represents an immediate threat to — to domestic security?

  • REP. BUCK McKEON:

    Sure, they do.

    We have probably 100 fighters from America over there right now. Two of them were killed a week or two ago in a firefight over there. One of them was a 10-year veteran working in air traffic control. He could have used his — he could have done something here.

    We know that a lot of those people have — and a lot of people that come from Europe have passports that can come — they can come into this country without visas. That's an immediate threat. They could be here right now.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Do you believe that Congress will provide the kind of financial support that the president has asked for, especially for arming the Syrian moderates?

  • REP. BUCK McKEON:

    You know, we're talking about that now. We were ready to vote on a continuing resolution today to fund the government for the rest of the year. That was the plan. Just before the bill was introduced, the president called Chairman Rogers and threw in this additional request that he wanted us to grant authority to do training in Saudi Arabia.

    And that has made leadership pull the bill and give people time to digest that. And now we will probably have that vote next week. And I'm hopeful that we will give the president what he needs. I think it's incumbent upon us to at least give him what he asks and then do the oversight and make sure that he is holding — you know, that we hold his feet to the fire and get this done, because you can't send these troops out there without the support they need.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    How — how long do you believe that Americans should be expecting us to stay involved in this latest conflict?

  • REP. BUCK McKEON:

    Until we win.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Congressman Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, thank you so much.

  • REP. BUCK McKEON:

    Thank you.

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