Trump faces growing GOP revolt on Syria

Republicans are in a full-out revolt against President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE over his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, a move broadly seen as putting the lives of Kurdish allies at risk.

The overwhelming opposition from GOP lawmakers is putting increasing pressure on Trump to reverse course. And it comes at a time when Democrats are moving full steam ahead with an impeachment inquiry.

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip MORE (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s loudest congressional supporters, on Tuesday demanded a senators-only briefing on the Syria move, which he said betrayed the Kurds and would make it tougher for the U.S. to build alliances going forward.

“The President’s decision will have severe consequences for our strategic national interests and reduce American influence in the region while strengthening Turkey, Russia, and Iran,” Graham wrote in a letter also signed by Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial Senators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report DOJ inspector general refutes Trump claim that Obama tapped his wires MORE (D-Del.).  “The decision also dramatically increases the threat to our Kurdish allies, who helped destroy ISIS’s territorial caliphate, and will impair our ability to build strategic alliances in the future.”

Trump’s decision, seen as enabling Turkey to go after Kurds in Syria, was lambasted by Trump loyalists such as Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran Cruz, Graham and Cheney call on Trump to end all nuclear waivers for Iran MORE (Wyo.), the third-ranking House GOP leader, and Republicans who have differed with the president on policies, such as Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyIs a trap being set for Trump in the Senate trial? The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial MORE (Utah).

Cheney called the decision a “catastrophic mistake” and Romney characterized it as a “betrayal” of Kurdish allies that would show “America is an unreliable ally.”

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Hillicon Valley: Twitter to start verifying 2020 primary candidates | FTC reportedly weighs injunction over Facebook apps | Bill would give DHS cyber unit subpoena powers | FCC moves to designate 988 as suicide-prevention hotline Senate Republicans air complaints to Trump administration on trade deal MORE (R-Wis.), one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the Senate, said he agrees with the president that the United States should not be the world’s policeman but warned that “abandoning the Kurds” would send a “terrible signal to America’s allies and adversaries” and would be “unconscionable.

The broad-based backlash left some in the GOP hoping Trump would reverse himself, something Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyThis bipartisan plan is the most progressive approach to paid parental leave Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills Key House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills MORE (R-La.) on Tuesday raised as a possibility.

“I understand he’s reconsidering. I do not think we should abandon the Kurds,” he told a reporter for Politico.

Senate Republican sources said the Pentagon has warned Turkey not to advance into northern Syria, despite interpretations of Trump’s decision to pull back U.S. forces as a go-ahead signal.

Top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman on Monday said the Defense Department has “made clear” that “we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria.”

The following day, Hoffman disputed reports that Trump made his decision without consultating Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOfficials say Trump to announce withdrawal of more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan soon Trump greeted with cheers at 120th Army-Navy game Overnight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, adding that U.S. troops were repositioned in Syria to ensure their safety.

“Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley were consulted over the last several days by the President regarding the situation and efforts to protect U.S. forces in Northern Syria in the face of military action by Turkey,” Hoffman said in statement.

He said the Defense Department continues to hold the position that “establishing a safe zone in Northern Syria” is the best way to maintain stability.

“Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. As a result we have moved the U.S. forces in Northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety,” Hoffman said. “We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time.”

Trump, in a set of mixed messages conveyed via Twitter, threatened to retaliate against Turkey if the country goes too far. But he did not specify what kind of action would cross the line.

“If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey,” Trump tweeted Monday.

The flurry of events left lawmakers befuddled about Trump’s plan.

“I think there’s a sense of waiting to see what the administration is actually going to do,” said a Senate Republican aide who called the situation “clear as mud.”

GOP aides said Trump’s announcement caught Capitol Hill by surprise and appeared to be made off the cuff after a phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now scheduled to visit the White House in mid-November.

Brett McGurk, a former member of Trump’s national security team, told NPR that the president’s sudden decision to withdraw from Syria appeared made “on a haphazard basis after a single call” and called it “almost unprecedented.” 

Graham and Coons, in their letter to Senate leaders, raised concerns “that this was an abrupt decision taken in the face of reported opposition from military and diplomatic leaders.”

“We believe that it is imperative that the Department of Defense, State Department, and the Intelligence Community provide an all-members classified briefing on this decision as soon as possible,” they wrote.

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But another one of Trump’s closest allies, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial Pentagon to take bigger role in vetting foreign students after Pensacola shooting Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons MORE (Ky.), defended the president’s action and criticized fellow Republicans for rebelling.

“They always want to stay at war. They think it’s the best answer,” Paul said of what he called the “neocon war caucus of the Senate.”

“President Trump recognizes what President Reagan recognized, unfortunately too late, in Beirut. Leaving 300 or 400 people in an area that are vulnerable could lead to catastrophe,” Paul said Monday on Fox News.

In the House, Democrats said they were looking at several options to push back against Trump’s latest foreign policy move, which caught leaders of both parties by surprise.

“Multiple committees are looking at possible legislative efforts to put the House on record against the president’s outrageous decision,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

While House Republicans have not sided with Democrats on many measures critical of Trump, it seemed possible that the Syria decision could be an exception.

The Senate voted 70-26 in February to advance a resolution authored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment CNN's Cuomo promotes 'Dirty Donald' hashtag, hits GOP for 'loyalty oath' to Trump MORE (R-Ky.) expressing strong opposition to the precipitous withdrawal of troops from Syria or Afghanistan.

McConnell reminded Trump of that in a statement Monday, urging him “to exercise American leadership to keep our multinational coalition to defeat ISIS and prevent significant conflict between our NATO ally Turkey and our local Syrian counterterrorism partners,” referring to Kurdish forces.

A second Senate Republican aide said there could be language added to the annual National Defense Authorization Act to influence Trump’s Syria policy.

But a Republican spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee noted the bill is still under negotiation and declined to speculate on what might be included in the final version.

The House version of the legislation limits military spending until the secretary of Defense submits to the congressional committees a detailed report on the military mission to combat Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq.

The House bill also requires the secretaries of Defense and State to submit to Congress plans for providing assistance to vetted Syrian opposition forces.

Aside from the defense authorization bill, Congress could pass other measures, from ratcheting up sanctions on Syria to sanctioning foreign individuals who provide support to the Syrian government.

None of those bills, however, would reverse Trump’s decision on Syria.

But Graham on Tuesday endorsed the threat of sanctions against Turkey to safeguard against a military strike against Kurdish forces.

“If Turkey moves into northern Syria, sanctions from hell – by Congress – will follow. Wide, deep, and devastating sanctions,” he tweeted.

Ellen Mitchell contributed.