Partisan squabbles endanger congressional response to Trump's course on Syria

An effort to counter President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE’s Syria strategy is running into partisan land mines on Capitol Hill. 

The emerging battle lines increase the chance that nothing will be able to pass Congress, despite the widespread bipartisan backlash sparked by the president’s decision to pull back troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkey’s invasion. 

Lawmakers say they are still mulling potential financial penalties against Ankara or a resolution to formally oppose Trump’s decision, but so far they’ve failed to coalesce behind a policy.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer HUD Secretary: Congress 'should invest 0B in direct rental assistance' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated House approves .5T green infrastructure plan MORE (Ky.) and other top Republicans introduced a resolution on Tuesday that urged Trump to reverse course on the troop pullback, condemned Turkey’s military invasion and suggested that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s White House invitation be revoked. 

McConnell, announcing his resolution, knocked Democrats’ 2020 field, arguing they should have to go on the record on the broader U.S. strategy in the Middle East and Afghanistan. 

“Almost all of our Democratic colleagues currently running for president refused to sign on to the McConnell amendment that earned 70 votes,” McConnell said, referring to an amendment approved by the Senate earlier this year warning Trump against pulling troops from Syria and Afghanistan. 

He added that “we can’t afford to dance around the critical question of a U.S. presence in Syria and the Middle East for the sake of Democrats’ presidential primary. The Senate needs to speak up.” 

The resolution underscores the break between Trump and his GOP allies on Syria. The resolution warns against a “precipitous withdrawal” from Syria and urged Trump to certify that the “conditions have been met for the enduring defeat” of ISIS before a further withdrawal of troops. 

Trump’s decision to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for the Turkish invasion, has sparked days-long fallout with Republicans on Capitol Hill. 

Republicans vented frustration about the strategy on Tuesday during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing that marked the first time administration officials have testified publicly about the decision. 


Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump administration grants funding extension for Texas testing sites Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down GOP lawmakers join social media app billed as alternative to Big Tech MORE (R-Texas) said while he agreed with Trump’s ultimate endgame, the decision was “precipitous” and “risked very serious negative consequences.” 

“I think the way we announced the withdrawal risked abandoning the Kurds to military onslaught and potentially even the threat of a genocide,” Cruz added. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights Harrison goes on the attack against Graham in new South Carolina Senate ad Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police MORE (R-S.C.) urged the international community to “get off your ass” and help the United States police a buffer zone between Turkey and the Kurds. 

“I’m asking the administration to adjust,” Graham added. “This is the most important decision the president will make anytime soon.” 

But the GOP resolution hit immediate roadblocks, as Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Top intelligence officials to brief Gang of Eight on Thursday Over 1700 veterans ask Senate to pass statehood bill MORE (D-N.Y.) vowed it will not pass the House.

“To come up with his own partisan resolution that will never see the light of day in the House, one wonders … does he care more about protecting President Trump than protecting America?” Schumer told reporters, referring to McConnell. 

The House has already passed a resolution formally breaking with Trump’s strategy, with only 60 lawmakers opposing the measure. 

Graham has predicted it would get roughly 80 votes if brought to the Senate floor, but the measure has run into opposition from other Republicans.

Schumer tried for a second time on Tuesday to get a vote on the House resolution, arguing that it “would send a better message to the president than anything else we can do.” 

But he was blocked by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic proposal to extend 0 unemployment checks Rand Paul urges Fauci to provide 'more optimism' on coronavirus MORE (Ky.), a libertarian-leaning GOP senator, who argued that Democrats were trying to avoid a larger war powers debate in Congress. 

“If Democrats are so hungry for war, let’s have that debate,” he said. 

McConnell also panned the House measure, calling it “badly insufficient.” He added that it was “silent” on the U.S. military presence in Syria and that “perhaps the goal was to paper over disagreements within the Democratic Party.” 

McConnell also hit the brakes on bipartisan calls for Congress to pass a tougher sanctions bill targeting Ankara over its military invasion. 

“I am aware there is some appetite on both sides of the aisle to quickly reach for the toolbox of sanctions. ... But I caution us against developing a reflex to use sanctions as our tool of first, last and only resort in implementing our foreign policy,” McConnell said. 

He added that he is “open to the Senate considering them. But we need to think extremely carefully before we employ the same tools against a democratic NATO ally that we would against the worst rogue states.” 

If the Senate is going to enact new sanctions, McConnell stressed that the Foreign Relations, Banking and Finance committees need to be involved.

Under an agreement announced by Vice President Pence last week, the administration said it would not apply further sanctions during a five-day cease-fire. After that time frame, which was crossed on Tuesday, the cease-fire would then become permanent and the Trump administration would lift sanctions announced earlier this month. 

Graham and Sen. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischRepublicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst Democrat Paulette Jordan to face incumbent Jim Risch in Idaho Senate race MORE (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, have both introduced legislation to slap new sanctions on Turkey. 

Asked about the next steps for his sanctions bill, Risch said the evolving talks between the United States and Turkey made the details of his bill “fluid.” He added that he had talked to McConnell about how to get the bill to the floor. 

“We want to move it sooner rather than later,” Risch said. “It’s a work in progress. He’s got his bill. ... One of the issues up here, as you know, is time.”