Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed 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 CheneyGOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran Cruz, Graham and Cheney call on Trump to end all nuclear waivers for Iran MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of House GOP leadership, adding that Trump’s decision was having “sickening and predictable consequences.” 

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaReject National Defense Authorization Act, save Yemen instead Sanders revokes congressional endorsement for Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat 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 SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump MORE (R-Maine). 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump 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: 'I wouldn't mind' a long Senate impeachment process Poll finds Graham with just 2-point lead on Democratic challenger Hill editor-in-chief calls IG report 'a game-changer' MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA GOP senator blocks bill aimed at preventing Russia election meddling 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 BlackburnTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Lawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week 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 McConnellSherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' McConnell: Bevin pardons 'completely inappropriate' House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal 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 InhofeLankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Gabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report 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 EngelBombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump 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 CrowDemocrats launch bilingual ad campaign off drug pricing bill Colorado rep planning sunrise run to possible sites for military memorial Bill introduced to give special immigrant visas to Kurds who helped US in Syria 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 MurphyOn The Money: Trump, China announce 'Phase One' trade deal | Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records | House panel schedules hearing, vote on new NAFTA deal Schumer: Trump 'sold out' on China trade deal McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump 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 ReedGabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, also called for Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week Top Pentagon official announces resignation, second within week Hillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades 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.”