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 KerryWhere do we stand on the Iran deal under President Trump? New York Knicks owner gave 0K to pro-Trump group A bold, common sense UN move for the Trump administration 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 MenendezSteve Mnuchin, foreclosure king, now runs your US Treasury Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order Senators to Trump: We support additional Iran sanctions MORE (D-N.J.) and Carl LevinCarl LevinA package proposal for repatriation Silencing of Warren another example of hyperpartisan Senate GOP going nuclear over Gorsuch might destroy filibuster forever 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.
“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 InhofeA guide to the committees: Senate GOP considers ways to ‘modernize’ endangered species law GOP bill would eliminate Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 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 McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report McConnell: Trump's State Dept. cuts 'probably' can't pass Senate Sanders offers bill to allow purchase of prescription drugs from Canada 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 ClintonAFL-CIO president backs Trump's infrastructure plan Haley: US ‘not afraid’ to call out Russia GOP hasn’t reached out to centrist Dem senators 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 GrahamGraham: 2020 candidates must release their tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report Trump takes hatchet to EPA MORE (S.C.) have called for arming the opposition. And Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: Lack of GOP consensus on healthcare is not a 'weakness' Overnight Finance: Trump budget faces GOP resistance | House panel blocks Dem effort on Trump's business ties | Corporate giants at odds over border tax Rubio defends foreign aid amid proposed cuts 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.