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 KerryBringing the American election experience to Democratic Republic of the Congo Some Dems sizzle, others see their stock fall on road to 2020 The Hill's 12:30 Report 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) MenendezOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Poll finds little support for Menendez reelection Judge tells Menendez lawyer to 'shut up' MORE (D-N.J.) and Carl LevinCarl LevinPresident Trump, listen to candidate Trump and keep Volcker Rule Republicans can learn from John McCain’s heroism Trump and GOP wise to keep tax reform and infrastructure separate 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 CorkerOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Corker pressed as reelection challenges mount 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 InhofeA third of Congress hasn’t held a town hall — it’s time to take action Anonymous affiliate publishes claimed list of GOP private contact info Wasting America’s nuclear opportunity 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 McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions 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 ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain 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 GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (S.C.) have called for arming the opposition. And Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration 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.