One of the most tumultuous weeks in President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE’s turbulent two years in office has turned up the spotlight on divisions between the White House and Republicans — particularly on foreign policy.
Trump in the last week has announced the removal of all U.S. troops from Syria and a reduction in the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, two decisions that represented a reversal from more than a decade of GOP strategy in the war against terrorism. The top U.S. envoy in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) resigned.
The decisions on Syria and Afghanistan contributed to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFormer Defense Secretary Mattis testifies in Theranos CEO trial 20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan MORE’s resignation — a move that rattled lawmakers in both parties who had long seen the respected general as a calming or even stabilizing influence on an administration viewed at times as erratic.
On Sunday, Trump, seemingly stung by that narrative, announced Mattis would be out on Jan. 1 — two months earlier than previously planned.
He also took a swipe at the Pentagon chief, casting his decision to make him secretary of Defense as a “second chance.”
“When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance,” Trump wrote in a tweet on Saturday night. “Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should. Interesting relationship-but I also gave all of the resources that he never really had. Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S.”
Mattis had made it clear that the president did not “align” with his own “strongly held” views on the value of alliances such as NATO and the anti-ISIS coalition and standing firm against adversaries such as Russia and China.
Senate Republicans saw the president effectively force a shutdown of parts of the government over his demands for $5 billion in funding for his wall on the Mexican border, after the Senate has passed a bill without extra border funding by voice vote to keep it open.
And all of this took place as the stock market crumbled, falling in part on worries about Trump’s trade policies. Reports circulated over the weekend that the president was mulling the firing of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who he has blamed for interest rate hikes.
GOP lawmakers, just more than a month after a midterm election that saw them lose the House majority, are sending public warning signs that they think the administration is headed in the wrong direction.
Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloNation's fraught politics leads to fear, scars and exits Direct air capture is a crucial bipartisan climate policy Biden's corporate tax hike is bad for growth — try a carbon tax instead MORE (R-Fla.), one of the House GOP lawmakers defeated in November, said that the “instability [and] chaos in our government the past few days has been particularly pronounced” in a Saturday tweet, adding that “things are not well in the USA.”
“Anybody who’s not concerned, is not watching,” said retiring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of Trump’s. “We’re all concerned.”
Criticism also came from voices who generally avoid public conflict with Trump.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWe don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome MORE (R-Ky.), who is known for choosing his words carefully, sent out one of his most critical statements to date, saying he was “distressed” to read Mattis’s reasons for resigning. He added that Trump should pick a successor who shares Mattis’s “understanding” of the “vital principles” that he outlined in his resignation letter.
Many Republicans were already stung by what they saw as the administration’s weak response to the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The Senate's vote to name Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as "responsible" for the slaying, a move at odds with the president, came only a week before they learned of Trump's decisions on Afghanistan and Syria.
It has underlined the discomfort many Republicans have with Trump’s isolationist tendencies, a friction also evident in GOP disfavor with some of his trade actions.
Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) said he didn’t believe Trump’s views on foreign policy aligned in many ways with his or most Republicans'.
“I think General Mattis has put his finger on where the president has views that are very, very distinct from the vast majority of Republicans and probably Democrats, elected and unelected,” Toomey told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Biden says he will review executive actions after police reform talks fail MORE (R-S.C.), asked about Mattis, quipped that he was “still depressed” and “too emotional” to talk about the impending departure. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman 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.) said he wanted Trump to pick a “Mattis clone.”
“I think we all would,” he added.
Trump, for his part, has fired back at the criticism, arguing that ISIS “was going wild” when he took office but is now “largely defeated.”
Some of Trump’s closest allies in Congress have offered him cover, echoing the president's rhetoric accusing Democrats of shutting part of the GOP-controlled government.
McConnell, who sought to avoid a shutdown over the wall, has defended the president’s push to win more funding for border security since Trump essentially jettisoned the Senate’s stopgap funding measure sent to the House.
But worries about the White House are also becoming more prominently discussed.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that he had started seeing a change months ago within the administration, with the president increasingly ignoring advisers and believing he has “this under control.”
“I think we’re just in a whole different period now,” he added.
Vice President Pence, meanwhile, got an “earful” during a recent closed-door lunch about Trump’s decision to pull out of northern Syria, which senators say was made without coordination from other agencies and with no heads up to Congress.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Democrats face bleak outlook in Florida The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE (R-Fla.) said lawmakers will do oversight of the Syria decision and press the administration on their strategy for ISIS if, once the United States pulls out, the group “reconstitutes into some form of [a] larger and powerful insurgency and begins targeting Americans both in the region and abroad.”
“I would imagine that’s going to be the subject of multiple hearings over the next few months,” Rubio said.
Rubio added that he believed Mattis’s letter sends “troubling” signals about where the administration’s strategy is heading. The letter, according to Rubio, suggests “pretty strongly that he believes there are more decisions to come that head in the direction of the Syria decision.”
The move in Syria also sparked a public back-and-forth between Trump and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.), who has been incensed about the decision and is publicly and privately urging Trump to reverse course.
Graham brought up the issue during an unrelated government funding lunch with Trump at the White House on Saturday, said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE (R-Ala.), adding: “You know Lindsey. He brought it up.”
Johnson, describing himself as “highly concerned,” said “the vast majority of senators both Democratic and Republican are totally opposed to this policy. We’re trying to get the administration to rethink it.”
Asked if he thought Trump understood foreign policy, he smiled briefly before adding: “I kind of scratch my head.”