Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE is barreling toward a showdown with Congress over his decision to pull back U.S. troops in northern Syria despite widespread opposition. 

The announcement, which caught leadership and traditional GOP allies flatfooted, sparked a wave of condemnation, with Republicans calling it a “disaster in the making,” a “catastrophic mistake” and a “terrible decision.”    

Lawmakers are already weighing how to respond to Trump’s decision, setting the stage for a high-profile clash with Trump as soon as Congress returns from a two-week break on Monday. 

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“Congress must and will act to limit the catastrophic impact of this decision,” said Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneySelf-quarantined New York lawmaker: 'We should be in total lockdown' On The Money: Trump hopes to reopen economy by Easter | GOP senators expect stimulus vote on Wednesday | Democratic leaders forecast at least two more relief bills Trump triggers congressional debate with comments on reopening economy MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of House GOP leadership, adding that Trump’s decision was having “sickening and predictable consequences.” 

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Defense Production Act urgently needed for critical medical gear 20 House Dems call on Trump to issue two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order MORE (D-Calif.) warned that unless Turkey changes its behavior “everything is on the table,” including “suspending arms sales, to suspending economic aid to even considering their status in NATO.” 

Lawmakers, scattered across the country for a two-week break, are having behind-the-scenes talks about potential legislative action and publicly throwing out a myriad of ideas ranging from a resolution opposing Trump’s actions to sanctions against Turkey to inserting language into a mammoth defense policy bill. 

“Multiple committees are looking at possible legislative efforts to put the House on record against the President’s outrageous decision,” a House Democratic leadership aide told The Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell launches ad touting role in passing coronavirus relief Joe Biden can't lead the charge from his home in Delaware Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill MORE (D-N.Y) separately predicted that “Congress will take some form of action” given the “broad condemnation” sparked by Trump’s decision. 

Lawmakers are under growing pressure to mount a formal response after Turkey began airstrikes and shelling against Kurdish forces in northern Syria and, hours later, moved ground troops into the country after Trump pulled back U.S. troops. Lawmakers have warned for days that Trump’s decision could endanger the Kurds, who were integral to the U.S.-led fight against ISIS.

Trump on Wednesday tried to distance himself from Turkey’s actions, saying the United States “does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.” But he also said the United States should not be part of “endless, senseless wars.”

Trump reiterated that the U.S. stance is that it is now Turkey’s responsibility to ensure ISIS prisoners being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces do not escape and further claimed Ankara has committed to “protecting civilians” and “ ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place.” 

That’s done little to stem the flow of criticism from Capitol Hill. 

“I said that President Trump's decision to abandon the Kurds ... was terribly unwise. Today, we are seeing the consequences of that terrible decision. If the reports of Turkish strikes in Syria are accurate, I fear our allies the Kurds could be slaughtered,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package MORE (R-Maine). 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Granting cash payments is a conservative principle 7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package MORE (R-Utah) lamented the “tragic loss of life among friends shamefully betrayed.” 

One option under discussion would be to slap new sanctions on Turkey for invading Syria. 

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' Coronavirus crisis scrambles 2020 political calculus Trump reviews Pelosi on morning TV: 'She wasn't bad' MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus MORE (D-Md.) said after Turkey’s actions that they have reached an agreement on sanctions legislation. The bill would target Turkey’s energy sector and military. It also includes visa restrictions for Turkish leadership, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and would sanction any assets they have within U.S. jurisdiction. 

“I am pleased to have reached a bipartisan agreement with Senator Van Hollen on severe sanctions against Turkey for their invasion of Syria. While the Administration refuses to act against Turkey, I expect strong bipartisan support,” Graham said. 

“Most Members of Congress believe it would be wrong to abandon the Kurds who have been strong allies against ISIS,” he added. 

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Van Hollen said the sanctions bill will be introduced next week and that they want a quick vote. 

“Will ask for an immediate vote to send a clear message to Turkey that it must cease and desist its military action, withdraw its fighters from the areas under attack, and stop the tragic loss of life,” he said. 

Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump must cut our dependence on Chinese drugs — whatever it takes Senate passes House's coronavirus aid bill, sending it to Trump Nikki Haley expected to endorse Loeffler in Senate race MORE (R-Tenn.), who has aligned herself closely with Trump, said on Wednesday that she will support new financial penalties. 

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms any U.S. policy that will result in endangerment of the Kurds who have sacrificed so much blood and treasure alongside American forces. ... Turkey must pay the price for its aggression toward our Kurdish partners,” Blackburn said. 

Trump downplayed the potential pushback, saying he thinks “it’s OK” if Congress imposes sanctions on Turkey even as he disagreed with Graham’s desire to stay in Syria and dismissed the Kurds because they “didn't help us in the Second World War.”

“I think Lindsey would like to stay there for the next 200 years and maybe add a couple a hundred of thousand people every place, but I disagree with Lindsey on that,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I will tell you that I do agree on sanctions, but I actually think much tougher than sanctions if [Erdogan] doesn’t do it in as humane a way as possible.”

Graham is also crafting a resolution formally opposing Trump’s decision, adding that he expects “it will receive strong bipartisan support.” A spokesman for Graham told The Hill this week that they were in the process of drafting the resolution. 

It would mark the second time the Senate has rebuked Trump on Syria after providing veto-proof support for an amendment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes McConnell: Pelosi trying to 'jam' Senate on fourth coronavirus relief bill On The Money: House Dems push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus | Trump leans on businesses in virus response | Lawmakers press IRS to get relief checks to seniors MORE (R-Ky.) warning the president against withdrawing troops from Syria or Afghanistan earlier this year. 

McConnell sent a warning shot on Monday saying that “the conditions that produced that bipartisan vote still exist today.” 

Lawmakers could also slip language into a mammoth defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). House and Senate lawmakers are negotiating on a final version of the legislation. 

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Okla.) called Turkey’s actions “unacceptable” and warned that Ankara will face “serious economic, diplomatic and security consequences.”

“Erdoğan’s actions risk undermining our bilateral relationship, destabilizing northeastern Syria, squandering hard-won progress against ISIS, creating a new humanitarian crisis and harming our Kurdish partners,” Inhofe said.

A spokeswoman for Inhofe said because “the NDAA is currently in the conference process” she “couldn’t speculate” on whether it will include a response to the Syria situation.

A House Armed Services Committee spokeswoman told The Hill that lawmakers, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Lawmakers urge EU to sanction Putin associate for election interference Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus MORE (D-N.Y.), are working on legislation related to the issue separately from the NDAA, but could not immediately provide more detail. A House Foreign Affairs spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

More than 50 House Democrats, led by Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowHere are the lawmakers who have self-quarantined as a precaution Trump set to confront his impeachment foes Democratic impeachment manager shares quote from "Harry Potter's" Dumbledore during trial MORE (D-Colo.), sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday afternoon demanding he answer 10 questions about his Syria policy, including how the United States will ensure the Kurds’ protection and what Trump considers to be “off limits” for Turkey to do.

“This decision jeopardizes decades of trust in American solidarity and will only serve to undermine current and future alliances,” they wrote.

In the meantime, calls are mounting for the Trump administration to testify about the decision, providing a high-stakes setting where they would likely face a bipartisan grilling. 

Romney and Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE (D-Conn.) are urging Senate Foreign Relations Committee leadership to have administration officials testify before the panel and “explain to the American people how betraying an ally and ceding influence to terrorists and adversaries is not disastrous for our national security interests.” 

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic Rand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, also called for Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperEsper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Overnight Defense: 2,700 sailors evacuating coronavirus-stricken carrier | Military to send ships, aircraft for counter-narcotics effort amid pandemic | Trump alleges Iranian plot for 'sneak attack' on US troops in Iraq Trump announces enhanced counternarcotics operation at coronavirus briefing MORE to testify before Congress “as soon as possible.” 

“I would hope Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo and Acting Director of National Intelligence [Joseph] Maguire will be called before the respective oversight committees as well,” Reed said.

“We need a full accounting and there is no time to waste. Congress must send a clear, bipartisan signal to this president that we do not condone his decision,” he added. “And it has to go beyond tweets and statements. We need action.”