Trump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing

Congressional Republicans are moving forward with a plan to slap additional sanctions on Turkey amid bipartisan outrage over Ankara’s invasion of northern Syria.

The push for legislation comes even as the Trump administration unveiled its own plan to penalize Turkey and try to find an offramp to the current military incursion after days of high-profile criticism from Republican allies.


Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week MORE (R-S.C.) said he will unveil his bill with Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOn The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war GAO reviewing Trump hold on Ukraine military aid Democrats unveil proposal for 'millionaires surtax' MORE (D-Md.) to place additional sanctions on Turkey this week. The legislation is expected to target Turkey’s energy sector and military, as well as limit the ability of Turkish officials to travel to the United States.

“I am hoping reason will prevail, but I will be introducing sanctions against Turkey,” Graham said. “I do appreciate what the administration has done against Turkey ... but more to follow.”

Graham’s decision to double down on his own sanctions bill comes after he threw his support behind Trump’s strategy on Monday night. The shift, which came after days of public criticism, had raised questions about whether he would demand Congress take additional steps.

Graham added on Tuesday that he and Trump “have our differences” on Syria and that he hopes Trump “will make some adjustments that make sense.”

Other GOP senators, including Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senate panel clears controversial Trump court pick Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump MORE (Maine), Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed MORE (Tenn.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths MORE (Ariz.), have said they would support sanctions against Turkey.

But, in a potential hurdle for supporters of tougher sanctions, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Biden not ruling out Senate voting to impeach Trump: 'It will depend on what their constituency says' Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) has yet to say what, if any, new legislation he will support following Trump’s decision to pull back troops and Turkey’s invasion. 

“I look forward to discussing with members on both sides and with the administration how the U.S. can stand with our partners and provide strong, principled and consistent global leadership,” McConnell said on Tuesday during a floor speech.

He didn’t rule out sanctions during a separate interview with Defense News, saying “that’s what we’ll be talking about now that we’re all back together.” A McConnell spokesman confirmed the quote.

The Graham-Van Hollen bill is one of several proposals that have been floated in response to Trump’s decision to remove troops from northern Syria, paving the way for the Turkish military incursion against Kurdish forces that worked with the United States to combat ISIS.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse Republicans add Hunter Biden, whistleblower to impeachment hearing witness wish list Trump: Whistleblower 'must come forward' House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said they were working to quickly get their sanctions bill with committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation House Democrats pull subpoena for ex-Trump national security official MORE (D-N.Y.) onto the House floor.

“We appreciate the Administration’s planned action against Turkey, but it does not go far enough to punish Turkey for its egregious offenses in Syria,” said Kaylin Minton, a spokeswoman for McCaul. 

“We will continue pushing for the full range of sanctions and other economic consequences imposed in our legislation. We are optimistic our bill will move forward on the House floor soon,” she continued.


Syria has emerged as a flash point between Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Trump ran in 2016 on an isolationist foreign policy, putting him at odds with most GOP lawmakers.

Republicans have publicly fumed amid the growing fallout from Trump’s decision to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria. 

But his decisions to implement new sanctions, including ratcheting up tariffs and pausing trade talks, and to deputize Vice President Pence to lead a delegation to try to negotiate an end to Turkey’s military operation has helped cool off GOP criticism.

Graham, in the most positive statement he’s made since the White House announced it was pulling back troops, heaped praise on Trump and urged his colleagues to give the administration “reasonable time and space” to try to implement its strategy.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischHillicon Valley: Schumer questions Army over use of TikTok | Federal court rules against random searches of travelers' phones | Groups push for election security funds in stopgap bill | Facebook's new payment feature | Disney+ launch hit by glitches Key Republican senator points to Chinese IP theft as holding up trade deal Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite MORE (R-Idaho) said in a statement on Tuesday that he backed Trump’s sanctions, adding that “President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and his administration must cease their destabilizing activity in Syria. Turkey has the opportunity to do what is right and end their misguided bloodshed. The world is watching.”

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.) — who has repeatedly lashed out at Trump since last week — also offered a more restrained assessment after the president announced his own sanctions.

“Even I have been surprised at how quickly the situation has deteriorated in Syria. This is an immediate cause and effect example of why America first can’t be America only. I hope @realDonaldTrump understands now,” he tweeted.

McConnell added on Tuesday that he and senators on both sides of the aisle have “grave concern” about the on-the-ground developments in Syria. The Senate previously supported an amendment by a veto-proof majority from the GOP leader that warned the administration against withdrawing troops from Syria.

But McConnell also backed Trump’s decision to send Pence to Turkey and urged Ankara to “take steps to repair our important relationship.”

Democrats are doubling down on the need to pass stronger sanctions. With Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate Siren song of impeachment lures Democrats toward election doom MORE (D-Calif.) behind the effort, legislation is likely to pass the House, potentially building pressure on McConnell to act.

A Democratic leadership aide noted after the president’s announcement that “there is significant bipartisan interest in advancing a legislative sanctions package.” 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDivided Supreme Court leans toward allowing Trump to end DACA Ilhan Omar blasts Pete King as an 'Islamophobe' after he announces retirement: 'Good riddance' Top Senate Dem: Officials timed immigration policy around 2020 election MORE (D-N.Y.) added on Tuesday that Republicans also needed to support a resolution formally opposing Trump’s troop pullback. 

“The first step as Congress returns is for Democrats and Republicans to join us in passing a resolution making clear that both parties demand the president’s decision be reversed,” he said. “Our Republican colleagues have a special place here because they have far more success in getting the president to reverse course and change his views.”