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Senate admonishes Trump on Syria

Senate Republicans joined Democrats in offering a direct rebuke Thursday of the administration’s Syria policy, marking the first time during the new Congress that the GOP caucus has formally broken with President TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE.

Senators voted 68-23 to end debate on an amendment that warns Trump against drawing down troops in Syria and Afghanistan. Senators still need to hold a second vote to add the amendment to the foreign policy bill, which will likely take place next week.

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The vote is the latest sign of fracture between congressional Republicans and Trump on foreign policy. The president caught lawmakers off guard when he announced last month that he would yank troops from Syria. He further rankled Republicans this week when he lashed out at top administration intelligence officials after they publicly contradicted him on Iran. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSunday shows - Biden agenda, Trump impeachment trial dominate Rubio: Trump impeachment trial is 'stupid' The Memo: Biden gambles that he can do it all MORE (R-Fla.), who argued that the Senate vote was not a "political issue," said he opposed the administration's policy because "it directly undermines one of the two pillars of our strategy and our policy in the region." 

"What I'll say here today is what I said initially about it, my position that I thought it was a bad idea. I said it then. I said it to the president in a subsequent meeting, and I thought it was important to restate it here," Rubio said. 

Asked what message the vote Thursday sent, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Memo: Biden gambles that he can do it all Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration MORE (R-Texas) said that it showed Congress is a “co-equal branch of government.”

The non-binding amendment, spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Senators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.), warns the administration against a “precipitous” withdrawal of the U.S. forces in Syria and Afghanistan. 

It also urges the administration to certify that certain conditions have been met “for the enduring defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS before initiating any significant withdrawal of United States forces from Syria or Afghanistan.” 

“I’ve been clear about my own views on these subjects,” McConnell said ahead of the vote on Thursday. “I believe the threats remain. [The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] and al Qaeda have yet to be defeated, and American national security interests require continued commitment to our mission there.”

Foreign policy has been a rolling point of contention between Congress and Trump, who ran with an isolationist worldview that is at odds with most Capitol Hill Republicans. 

In 2017, the GOP-controlled Congress approved new Russia sanctions over the objections of the White House. The Senate also passed a resolution last year naming Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman as “responsible” for Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi’s slaying, at odds with the administration’s stance.

Sen. Jim RischJim Elroy RischBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, characterized the GOP amendment as an example of Congress exerting itself on foreign policy after decades of gradually ceding control to the executive branch. 

“This is the way it’s supposed to work. Now, most of the time this is done in the Intelligence Committee and in the Foreign Relations Committee on closed hearings. Occasionally it bubbles over, as it has recently,” Risch said. 

He added that Trump’s comments have “properly spawned a debate as to what we’re doing there ... and what we’ve accomplished there.”

GOP support for the resolution wasn’t unanimous. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (R-Ky.), whose foreign policy views are at odds with many of his GOP colleagues, knocked McConnell ahead of the vote. 

“To call it a precipitous withdrawal after 17 years is ludicrous,” Paul said on Fox News. “We’ve been there 17 years.”

Paul missed the vote Thursday, while GOP Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTed Cruz, Seth Rogen trade insults as Twitter spat flares Biden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Ethics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot MORE (Texas), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Austin sworn in as nation's first Black Pentagon chief The Hill's 12:30 Report: Next steps in the Trump impeachment MORE (Utah) voted against advancing the amendment. 

Democrats had initially been split over whether or not to support the amendment. While they have been critical of Trump's logic on pulling troops from Syria, they also voiced concerns that supporting McConnell's amendment could be seen as green lighting military activity in Syria, which Congress has not done. 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineLawmakers move to oust extremists from military Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Democrats float 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office MORE (D-Va.) said shortly before the vote that he expected many Democrats would support McConnell's amendment if they could amend it to make it clear it wasn't authorizing military activities.  

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick Senate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen Year-end deal creates American Latino, women's history museums MORE (D-N.J.) is offering a change to McConnell's proposal that would insert language clarifying that nothing in McConnell's amendment "shall be constructed as a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of military force." Menendez said he believes McConnell is supporting his suggested change.

"I want to make it crystal clear that the McConnell amendment cautioned against a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops in no way constitutes sending support for their permanent presence for an undefined mission," he said. 

Dozens of Democrats, including Menendez and Kaine, voted to advance McConnell's amendment. But several of the party's 2020 contenders and members of leadership opposed it. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBoycott sham impeachment Sunday shows - Biden agenda, Trump impeachment trial dominate Sanders: Senate may use budget reconciliation to pass Biden agenda MORE (I-Vt.), in a statement after the vote, said U.S. troops had been in Syria under "very questionable legal authorities." 

"The American people do not want endless war. It is the job of Congress to responsibly end these military interventions and bring our troops home, not to come up with more reasons to continue them, as this amendment does. That is why I voted against it," he added. 

—Updated at 5:41 p.m.