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 GrahamTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans GOP member urges Graham to subpoena Schiff, Biden phone records Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (R-S.C.) said he will unveil his bill with Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenGraham, Van Hollen warn Pompeo that 'patience' on Turkey sanctions 'has long expired' Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Democratic senators push EPA to abandon methane rollback 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 CollinsSenate confirms Trump pick labeled 'not qualified' by American Bar Association Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Collins opposes Trump's district court pick MORE (Maine), Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill Director of National Intelligence Maguire should stand for the whistleblower MORE (Tenn.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyLobbying world Senate roundtable showcases importance and needs of women entrepreneurs GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate 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 McConnellTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators 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 GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues Texas GOP congressman calls on governor to postpone execution of Rodney Reed House Republicans add Hunter Biden, whistleblower to impeachment hearing witness wish list 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 EngelHouse leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge' Trump administration releases 5M in military aid for Lebanon after months-long delay Two budget staffers resigned after voicing concerns about halted Ukraine aid, official says 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 RischSenate panel to vote on Turkey sanctions next week Graham, Van Hollen warn Pompeo that 'patience' on Turkey sanctions 'has long expired' The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' 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 KinzingerLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia Honoring service before self House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump 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 PelosiTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans On The Money: Falling impeachment support raises pressure for Dems on trade | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Biden eyes minimum tax for corporations | Fed's top regulator under pressure over Dodd-Frank rules Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Virginia moves to suspend Medicaid work rules | Powerful House panel sets 'Medicare for All' hearing | Hospitals sue over Trump price rule | FDA official grilled on vaping policy 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 SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP 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.”