Irked lawmakers say Kerry left them in the dark on Syria aid

Lawmakers on Thursday said the State Department left Congress in the dark about the administration's decision to aid rebel forces in Syria.

The leaders of the panels that cover foreign policy told The Hill they weren't briefed ahead of Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system Democrats conflicted over how hard to hit Trump on Iran MORE's announcement Thursday that America would be sending $60 million worth of food and medicine directly to the rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services panels — Sens. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSchumer: Obama 'very amenable' to helping Senate Dems in midterms The Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea? Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo MORE (D-N.J.) and Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinHow House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe Congress dangerously wields its oversight power in Russia probe The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate MORE (D-Mich.) — weren't informed ahead of time, but did not express complaints.

Republicans also weren't informed, and expressed dismay at being shut out as the administration crafts a major piece of America's policy in the Middle East.

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Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs GOP senator demands details on 'damaging' tariffs MORE (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Kerry used to chair, said his staff were talking to the State Department until 8 p.m. Wednesday to get a sense of what might be discussed at Thursday's meeting in Rome with the Syrian opposition. They were told nothing.

“So, we're going to have a little discussion with them about that,” he said. “I mean, look, we probably support the policy. But we were a little disappointed that no head's up was given. It's not a good way to start out and we want to make sure it does not happen again.”

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Trump caves under immense pressure — what now? Inhofe: Pruitt got 'wake-up call' after showing 'questionable judgment' GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border MORE (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he wasn't briefed, either.

“Isn't that strange?” he said. “Yeah, I should have.”

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDon’t disrespect McCain by torpedoing his clean National Defense Authorization Act Meghan McCain rips Trump's 'gross' line about her dad Trump's America fights back MORE (R-Ariz.), who preceded Inhofe in the role and has called for arming the rebels, said the administration “certainly won't communicate with us on Syria.”

“It's a half measure,” he said. “And I know from my sources that many of those weapons [provided by other countries in ] are not getting through … are going to the wrong people, these jihadist outfits. And here we are 23 months into it, 70,000 dead, so it's a small half-measure."

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), said the decision to blindside Congress was unsurprising.

“There's lots of things they don't brief us on,” he said. “That's just kind of way things go. I can't lose any sleep over that; they're going to do what they're going to do.”

He declined to weigh in on the policy itself.

“Generally,” he said, arming groups “doesn't work very well for us. At some point, they start using bullets to shoot back at us.”

Decisions on Syria by all accounts have been made within the White House National Security Council. 

National security leaders in the president's first term — Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance Melania Trump puzzles with 'I really don't care' jacket Grassley wants to subpoena Comey, Lynch after critical IG report MORE at State, Leon Panetta at Defense, David Petraeus at the CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey — all supported arming the rebels last summer but were overruled by a White House concerned about getting involved in another Middle East war and providing weapons that could be one day be used against America.

Congress has been losing patience with months of assertions by the White House and the State Department that Assad would fall “any day now.”

Republican hawks led by McCain and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate panel advances three spending bills Trump says he will sign executive order to end family separations Trump backs narrow bill halting family separations: official MORE (S.C.) have called for arming the opposition. And Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPolitical figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer Senate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump Hillicon Valley: New FTC chief eyes shake up of tech regulation | Lawmakers target Google, Huawei partnership | Microsoft employees voice anger over ICE contract MORE (R-Fla.), in a foreign policy address Wednesday, pressed for the administration to begin sending ammunition to the Syrian fighters.

Kerry's announcement fell short of reports that the administration was considering sending body armor and helmets. He defended the decision during a press conference in Rome, his fourth stop on his nine-nation inaugural trip.

“I am absolutely confident from what I heard in there from other foreign ministers that the totality of this effort is going to have an impact on the ability of the Syrian opposition to accomplish its goals,” Kerry said.

This story was updated at 5:13 p.m.