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Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit 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 CheneyPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Trump: Liz Cheney's election remarks sparked by push to bring US troops home Biden's lead over Trump surpasses 6M votes as more ballots are tallied MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of House GOP leadership, adding that Trump’s decision was having “sickening and predictable consequences.” 

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally 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 SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn 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 CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (R-Maine). 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism 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 GrahamClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Spokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Democratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers 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 BlackburnSunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Senate Judiciary to vote on subpoena for Twitter CEO 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 McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight 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 InhofeHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' 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 EngelTrump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin Dozens of progressive groups endorse Joaquin Castro for Foreign Affairs chair Castro pledges to term limit himself if elected Foreign Affairs chair 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 CrowGiffords launches national Gun Owners for Safety group to combat the NRA House approves .2T COVID-19 relief bill as White House talks stall Lawmakers grill Pentagon over Trump's Germany drawdown 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 MurphyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses 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 ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, also called for Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition Brennan takes final shot at Trump: 'I leave his fate to our judicial system, his infamy to history, & his legacy to a trash heap' 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.”