Republicans are in a full-out revolt against President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP 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.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNorth Dakota Republican latest House breakthrough COVID-19 case Texas House Republican tests positive for coronavirus in latest breakthrough case Graham told Trump he 'f'd up' the presidency: book 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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' 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 CheneyCheney on same-sex marriage opposition: 'I was wrong' Cheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Anti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too 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 RomneyGraham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight 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 JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol 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 CassidyBill CassidyGOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff House passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid 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 EsperJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Milley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan 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.
But another one of Trump’s closest allies, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken 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 McConnellHow the Democratic Party's campaign strategy is failing America GOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation We don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis 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.