Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds

President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled 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 CheneyHouse GOP pushes back at Trump on changing election date Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future Democrats hope clash resonates with key bloc: Women MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of House GOP leadership, adding that Trump’s decision was having “sickening and predictable consequences.” 

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaGoogle's work from home extension could be a boon for rural America Sanders, Khanna introduce bill to produce face masks for all Americans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former HHS Secretary Sebelius gives Trump administration a D in handling pandemic; Oxford, AstraZeneca report positive dual immunity results from early vaccine trial 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 SchumerChuck SchumerMeadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery 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 CollinsOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans MORE (R-Maine). 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyStimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility CNN chyron says 'nah' to Trump claim about Russia Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock 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 GrahamNavarro: 'Don't fall for' message from TikTok lobbyists, 'puppet CEO' Graham defends Trump on TikTok, backs Microsoft purchase The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage 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 BlackburnGOP may face choice on tax cut or stimulus checks Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases 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 McConnellGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Meadows: Election will be held on November third Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency 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 InhofeControversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse 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 EngelProgressives lost the battle for the Democratic Party's soul House Democrats 'alarmed' by allegations about US diplomat in Brazil Democratic chairman subpoenas Pompeo for records related to Biden, Burisma 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 CrowTrump-Afghan deal passes key deadline, but peace elusive Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats Congressional inconsistency continues regarding war powers 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 MurphyConnecticut senators call for Subway to ban open carry of firearms Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal 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 ReedControversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier Senate panel scraps confirmation hearing for controversial Pentagon nominee at last minute MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, also called for Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDemocrats demand Esper explicitly ban Confederate flag and allow Pride, Native Nations flags Trump's revenge — pulling troops from Germany — will be costly Africa Command ordered to plan headquarters move as part of Trump's Germany withdrawal 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.”