Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement 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 CheneyPhotos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris Jordan acknowledges talking to Trump on Jan. 6 Stefanik calls Cheney 'Pelosi pawn' over Jan. 6 criticism MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of House GOP leadership, adding that Trump’s decision was having “sickening and predictable consequences.” 

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Overnight Energy: Democrats request interview with Exxon lobbyist after undercover tapes | Biden EPA to reconsider Trump rollback on power plant pollution in 2022 | How climate change and human beings influence wildfires Democrats request interview with Exxon lobbyist after undercover tapes 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 SchumerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done 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 CollinsSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (R-Maine). 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill 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 GrahamGraham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Civil rights activist Gloria Richardson dies Senate Democrats hit speedbumps with big spending plans 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 BlackburnBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Biden's misinformation crackdown spotlights partisan divide on content reform 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 McConnellBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire 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 InhofeGillibrand expects vote on military justice bill in fall The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden backs Cuban protesters, assails 'authoritarian regime' Trump getting tougher for Senate GOP to ignore 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 EngelNYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney Democrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department 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 CrowOvernight Defense: Senate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget | House passes bill to streamline visa process for Afghans who helped US | Pentagon confirms 7 Colombians arrested in Haiti leader's killing had US training House passes bill to streamline visa process for Afghans who helped US Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — West Coast wildfires drive East Coast air quality alerts 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 warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan 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 ReedHouse panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors Senate panel votes to make women register for draft Senators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, also called for Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war The Biden administration and Tunisia: Off to a good start Overnight Defense: Navy pulls plug on 0 million railgun effort | Esper defends Milley after Trump attacks | Navy vet charged in Jan. 6 riot wants trial moved 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.”