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

An effort to counter President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report 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 McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera 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 CruzOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House Senators confirm Erdoğan played 'propaganda' video in White House meeting 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 GrahamGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action 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 PaulGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Trump: 'Everybody knows who the whistleblower is' Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens 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 RischOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate Foreign Relations chair: 'Best' not to pass Turkey sanctions bill 'at this moment' Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House 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.”