GOP senators say vote for McConnell amendment shows Congress’ priorities

The GOP-controlled Senate took the rare step of admonishing President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by UANI — House Dems charge Trump with abuse, obstruction of Congress in impeachment articles Senate must take up Voting Rights Advancement Act without delay Krystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? 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 BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges 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 InhofeDefense bill includes fix for military families' survivor benefits Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Overnight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty 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 CapitoGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements ICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Congress braces for chaotic December 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