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 KinzingerPentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Trump faces bipartisan calls for answers on Russian-offered bounties MORE (R-Ill.) directly challenged Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDuckworth to block military confirmations until Esper proves Vindman will be promoted House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal House panel votes to ban Confederate flag at Pentagon property MORE during a closed-door GOP meeting over President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address 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 ScaliseCheney clashes with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up 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.