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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump has 'all the legal authority in the world' to pardon Stone Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' MORE (R-S.C.) said he will unveil his bill with Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Senate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules Warren asks for probe of whether Trump violated law by delaying Puerto Rico funds 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 CollinsDemocratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Susan Collins in statistical tie with Democratic challenger: poll MORE (Maine), Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTikTok introduces new parental controls Abortion wars flare up in Congress Hillicon Valley: Judge approves T-Mobile, Sprint merger | FTC to review past Big Tech deals | State officials ask for more cybersecurity help | House nears draft bill on self-driving cars MORE (Tenn.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyDemocratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Trump knocks Democrats at rally: Bloomberg 'getting pounded' 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 McConnellEverytown plans ad blitz on anniversary of House background check bill Kentucky state official says foreign adversaries 'routinely' scan election systems Don't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms 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 McCaulGun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei Hillicon Valley: Judge approves T-Mobile, Sprint merger | FTC to review past Big Tech deals | State officials ask for more cybersecurity help | House nears draft bill on self-driving cars 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: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike Pompeo to testify on Iran in February 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 RischLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Dairy industry doesn't own the word 'milk' 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 KinzingerBlagojevich calls himself a 'Trumpocrat,' praises Trump after release from prison Sanders slams Trump pardons as part of 'broken and racist criminal justice system' Illinois GOP House delegation blasts Blagojevich commutation: 'The face of public corruption' 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 PelosiBloomberg faces criticism for tweet showing altered debate moment Trump knocks Democrats at rally: Bloomberg 'getting pounded' Biden earns endorsement from former House impeachment manager 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 SchumerDemocratic senators urge Trump administration to request emergency funding for coronavirus response Barr to testify before House Judiciary panel Graham won't call Barr to testify over Roger Stone sentencing recommendation 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.”