GOP senators say vote for McConnell amendment shows Congress’ priorities

The GOP-controlled Senate took the rare step of admonishing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE on Thursday, taking issue with his administration’s military policies abroad.

Senators voted 68-23 in favor of an amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ky.) that warns against a troop drawdown in Syria and Afghanistan.

Key GOP Senators told Hill.TV earlier in day that they don’t view the resolution as a criticism of Trump but more of an assertion of Congress’ priorities.

“I think it's a restatement of what Congress believes is important,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Tillis dodges primary challenge in NC MORE (R-N.C.) told Hill.TV before the vote. “U.S. presence is important to our partnerships around the world. It's important to the fight of the war against terrorism and stability of the region.”

The amendment warns that “the precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan “could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.”

"I think that you could present this in a way that is supportive of what the president is trying to do: 'We're behind you, we're gonna do it and we want to make sure that it's done right that the whole world knows are together on it,’” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Shanahan: 'No concerns' about FBI background check for nomination MORE (R-Okla.) told Hill.TV in an interview Thursday, adding that he has spoken to Trump about the amendment.

The non-binding resolution also says the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda pose a “continuing threat to the homeland and our allies” and maintain an “ability to operate in Syria and Afghanistan.”

“This is a sense of the Senate that we need to be cautious in pulling out of the Syria mission because of who would fill the voids, and where the reconstitution of ISIS might occur,” Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoBipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' August recess under threat as yearly spending bills pile up MORE (R-W.Va.) said in an interview with Hill.TV before the vote. “It will send a message to the president that many of us are concerned. We've got to make sure we have the right – the right fortifications and allies and coalitions that are going to fill this void.”

Sen. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) echoed Capito’s sentiment that the resolution makes clear where senators stand on how the U.S. withdraws from hotspots.

“We need to make sure that when we withdraw from Syria, when we withdraw from Afghanistan they're in a posture to be able to transition well,” Lankford said in an interview Thursday. “We don't want to happen in Afghanistan and Syria what happened in Iraq. We withdrew too quickly in Iraq – ISIS came about – and there were thousands and thousands of lives lost because of that decision.”

Lankford, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there was no connection between the timing of McConnell’s amendment, with the vote coming just a day after Trump blasted intelligence agency heads on Twitter for their assessments that North Korea and ISIS pose a greater threat, and that Iran is less of a threat than presented by Trump.

“The amendment was already in place before all of that tweet went back-and-forth on it,” Lankford said. “So, no, I don't think those two are connected.”

Trump tweeted on Wednesday that “the Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! … Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Lankford and Burr disagreed with Trump’s attack on the intelligence officials, who briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee on global threats earlier this week.

Burr told Hill.TV, “I have complete trust in the intelligence community.”

Lankford also disagreed with Trump’s assessment that the intelligence agency heads are “naive and passive” on Iran.

"No, I don't think that it all,” Lankford said, adding that the officials "say some of the major priorities that we have right now are Russia and with China. They had made that very clear, but also made clear that Iran is still the largest state-sponsored terrorism in the world.”

—Molly K. Hooper