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 KerryEgypt’s death squads and America's deafening silence With help from US, transformative change in Iran is within reach Ellison comments on Obama criticized as 'a stupid thing to say' 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 MenendezTaiwan deserves to participate in United Nations The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump Corruption trial could roil NJ Senate race MORE (D-N.J.) and Carl LevinCarl LevinFor the sake of American taxpayers, companies must pay their fair share What the Iran-Contra investigation can teach us about Russia probe Senate about to enter 'nuclear option' death spiral 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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Senate Foreign Relations chair: Erdogan referendum win 'not something to applaud' Groups warn of rural health 'crisis' under ObamaCare repeal 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 InhofeTaiwan deserves to participate in United Nations Optimism rising for infrastructure deal Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate 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 McCainGraham: There are 'no good choices left' with North Korea Graham: North Korea shouldn't underestimate Trump Give Trump the silent treatment 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 Rodham ClintonDem: Pruitt violating anti-campaigning law with GOP fundraiser Michael Flynn’s troubles mount Writer who pushed 'Pizzagate' conspiracy theory says he'll attend WH briefing 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 GrahamOvernight Defense: US moving missile defense system to South Korea | Dems want justification for Syria strike | Army pick pushes back against critics of LGBT record Graham: There are 'no good choices left' with North Korea Graham: North Korea shouldn't underestimate Trump MORE (S.C.) have called for arming the opposition. And Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Rubio defends Trump: 'This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing' Rubio: Shutdown would have 'catastrophic impact' on global affairs 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.