McConnell: Assad must go

McConnell: Assad must go
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell expects Paul to return to Senate next week Former Hill staff calls for mandatory harassment training Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law MORE (R-Ky.) said Friday that he could not envision any resolution to the Syrian civil war that would allow Syrian President Bashar Assad to remain in power. 

McConnell’s statement reflects the evolving position of President Trump, who in the past seemed open to letting Assad stay in power but appears to have changed his mind after a nerve gas attack on Syrians in northern Syria's Idlib Province, which U.S. and Western officials have pinned on Assad. 

“I don’t see how there can possibly be any settlement in Syria that includes Bashar al Assad,” McConnell told reporters at a Friday morning press conference. “I just can’t imagine after all the butchering of his own people that he’s been doing now for four or five years that there could be any successful conclusion to this chaos with him still there.” 

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday said he sees “no role” in the future for Assad in Syria’s leadership, adding that an international effort will be needed to defeat radical Islamic militants in the country and work out a “political process that would lead to Assad leaving.”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Cornyn: Senate GOP tax plan to be released Thursday This week: GOP seeks to advance tax overhaul MORE (R-Fla.), a prominent voice on foreign policy issues in the Senate Republican Conference, said earlier this week that Tillerson may have emboldened the nerve gas attack by suggesting that Assad could remain in power. 

“In essence, [Tillerson was] almost nodding to the idea that Assad was going to get to stay in some capacity,” Rubio told a local radio show. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few days later we see this.”

McConnell praised Trump’s decision to launch a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian military air base Thursday to retaliate for this week’s nerve gas attack. At least seven were killed in the strike. 

“The strike was well-planned, well-executed, was certainly more than a pin prick and sends a message not only to Assad that using chemical weapons again is not something he can do with impunity,” he said. 

McConnell said the missile strike will reassure Sunni Arab allies that “America is back in terms of playing a leadership role” and send a message to Iran, North Korea and Russia that “America intends to lead again."