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 John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration 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 RubioRubio in Colombia to push for delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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 CornynOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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 McConnellDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress Juan Williams: America needs radical solutions 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 RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischOvernight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents Senate approves Syria, anti-BDS bill Trump administration to suspend nuclear treaty with Russia 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 PaulOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Congress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration 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 CruzEl Chapo's lawyer fires back at Cruz: 'Ludicrous' to suggest drug lord will pay for wall Democrats have a chance of beating Trump with Julian Castro on the 2020 ticket Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again MORE (Texas), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Push for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 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 KaineDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Kaine asks Shanahan if military families would be hurt by moving .6B for border wall 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) MenendezWilliam Barr is right man for the times This week: Trump delivers State of the Union amid wall fight BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Booker seeks dialogue about race as he kicks off 2020 campaign Capitalism: The known ideal 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.