Kinzinger challenges Trump's defense chief on Syria in closed-door meeting

Kinzinger challenges Trump's defense chief on Syria in closed-door meeting

Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerHonoring service before self House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ill.) directly challenged Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperPentagon chief confident in military justice system after Trump pardons US, South Korea cancel military exercise after criticism from North Korea Hillicon Valley: Twitter shares more details on political ad rules | Supreme Court takes up Google-Oracle fight | Pentagon chief defends Microsoft cloud contract MORE during a closed-door GOP meeting over President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE’s controversial decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, Republican sources told The Hill.

Kinzinger has been extremely critical of Trump’s actions in Syria in both tweets and media appearances. But GOP lawmakers in Tuesday evening’s meeting say they sat up in their seats when Kinzinger, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, went to the microphone and voiced frustration and anger to Esper over the Syria issue.

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“Kinzinger let Esper know exactly how he felt about the Syria decision and the damaging, deadly repercussions it will have,” said a Republican source familiar with the exchange, which occurred at the weekly GOP whip meeting hosted by Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump rips 'nasty' and 'obnoxious' Chris Wallace after he presses Scalise about impeachment Scalise: Louisiana defeat doesn't make Trump 'look bad' Scalise: Trump pardons will improve military morale MORE (R-La.).

Neither Kinzinger’s office nor the Pentagon had any comment. Republicans described the meeting to CNN as “a little heated,” with one lawmaker calling Trump’s Syria move “the worst foreign policy decision of my lifetime.” 

Kinzinger has been one of the most vocal GOP critics of Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria — a move that has allowed Turkey to launch deadly military strikes against Kurdish forces that assisted the U.S.-led fight against ISIS.

“@realDonaldTrump I thought you were going to defeat ISIS, that is why people voted for you. What changed? This is weakness. America is far more honorable than this,” Kinzinger tweeted at Trump after he announced his Syria decision.

“How is reconstituting ISIS, abandoning the Kurds, and green lighting a slaughter by the Turks not our concern?” Kinzinger tweeted earlier Wednesday.

The meeting with Esper came a day before the House voted 354 to 60 to pass a resolution rebuking Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria and condemning Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds. 

Scalise had invited Esper to speak at the whip meeting weeks ago, before Trump set his new policy in Syria. But because of the urgency of the issue, the Syria withdrawal and Turkey's aggression quickly became the focus of the private gathering in the basement of the Capitol. 

Earlier this year, Kinzinger, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, had pitched himself to become Trump’s secretary of the Air Force. But Trump nominated Barbara Barrett, a businesswoman and former diplomat, instead. The Senate confirmed her nomination Wednesday in an 85-7 vote.

Rebecca Kheel contributed.