Congressional Republicans appear poised to hand President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE a stinging rebuke of his Turkey and Syria policy when lawmakers return to Washington this week.
GOP lawmakers, furious over Trump’s decision to withdraw troops to make way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish allies, are preparing legislation that would force the administration to impose sanctions on Turkey.
Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS MORE announced Friday that Trump would sign an executive order giving the Treasury Department “very significant” new sanctions authorities against Turkey, but it’s unclear whether the move will be enough to placate Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Democrats face bleak outlook in Florida The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE (R-Fla.) called the announcement “welcome news,” while Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.) said the administration needs to “up their game.”
“We are witnessing ethnic cleansing in Syria by Turkey, the destruction of a reliable ally in the Kurds, and the reemergence of ISIS,” Graham tweeted after Friday’s announcement.
“The conditional sanctions announced today will be viewed by Turkey as a tepid response and will embolden Erdogan even more,” he added, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “The Turkish government needs to know Congress will take a different path — passing crippling sanctions in a bipartisan fashion.”
Graham, alongside Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' Bottom line Spendthrift Democrats ignore looming bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare MORE (D-Md.), is expected to introduce harsh sanctions against Turkey this week as a punishment for its incursion into northern Syria against the Kurds, longtime allies of the U.S.
It’s not yet known whether their bill will get a floor vote; a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWe don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome MORE (R-Ky.) said Friday he had no “updates or guidance on this right now."
But more and more Republicans are coming out in support of sanctions against Turkey, a NATO ally, as it bombs Kurds who were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, raising the possibility that Congress will pass veto-proof legislation rebuffing Trump’s foreign policy.
“I want to co-sponsor that resolution,” Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyFive takeaways from Arizona's audit results The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up MORE (R-Ariz.), who is up for reelection next year, said in an interview with Fox News. “We cannot have a supposed ally who is continuing to go in the wrong direction under Erdoğan's leadership, invading another country.”
“We got to do our part in the Senate in order to hold Turkey accountable," she added.
As lawmakers craft bills, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Milley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are scheduled to brief the Senate Armed Services Committee on Syria and “the wider region” behind closed doors Thursday, according to a committee notice.
Republicans are fuming after Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops from northeast Syria, paving the way for Erdoğan to move forward with a long-threatened offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces.
Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds terrorists connected with a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey. But the United States partnered with the Kurds in the fight against ISIS and relied on them to do the most dangerous ground fighting.
Lawmakers in both parties have called Trump’s decision a betrayal of the Kurds and one that will send a chilling signal to any country or group that might want to ally itself with the United States in the future. They have also expressed concern that ISIS will take advantage of the chaos to escape from Kurdish-guarded prisons and regroup.
While the condemnation has been bipartisan, the Republican criticism is particularly notable since it comes at a time when the GOP is vociferously defending Trump from House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
But Syria has riled up Republicans like no other issue during Trump’s presidency. When the president said in December he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, there was an outcry from Republicans and the Senate passed an amendment warning against the withdrawal in a veto-proof 68-23 vote. Trump eventually walked back his plan.
Amid the latest backlash, Trump has sought to distance himself from Turkey’s actions. On Thursday, he raised the possibility of playing mediator between Turkey and the Kurds, despite the fact that Trump’s retreat and Turkey’s incursion unraveled the previous U.S.-mediated plan for a safe zone.
“We can mediate. I hope we can mediate,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
His administration has also sought to change the narrative. A senior State Department official told reporters on a background call this past week that “we gave them a very clear red light,” while Esper told reporters Friday that “nobody greenlighted this operation” and insisted that “we have not abandoned the Kurds.”
While Trump approved expanding the Treasury Department’s authority to slap sanctions on Turkey, he declined later in the day Friday to specify what would prompt him to follow through with the sanctions threat.
Congress may not give him any choice.
Syria-related legislation was not included in guidance from McConnell's office about what will be taken up on the Senate floor this week. But Van Hollen has said he and Graham plan to introduce their bill as soon as Congress returns from recess and will push for an “immediate vote.”
The Graham-Van Hollen bill would sanction any U.S. assets of high-ranking Turkish officials, including Erdoğan, until the Trump administration certifies to Congress that Turkey has withdrawn from Syria. It would also place visa restrictions on Turkish leaders, sanction any foreign person supporting the Turkish military and ensure the previously congressionally mandated sanctions for Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system go into effect.
During an interview this past week with home-state radio station KBOI, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischAides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims Lobbying world Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Idaho) said there is “a growing feeling in the Congress that we ought to” sanction Turkey.
"The most important question I think on the table right now is ... do we take a move against Turkey based on economic sanctions,” Risch said.
Risch has not said whether he will support the Graham-Van Hollen bill, and a spokesman told The Hill on Friday he did not have an update on Risch’s stance.
Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsLooking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike MORE (R-Maine), who is up for reelection next year, told reporters in Maine she supports sanctions against Turkey.
“I think sanctions are a good idea,” she said. “I worry whether they will be effective at this point in stopping the Turks from the slaughter of our allies. I vehemently disagree with the president’s decision."
Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyHouse passes sweeping defense policy bill Trump rips Bush for backing Cheney Bush to hold fundraiser for Cheney MORE (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, has unveiled a companion measure to the Graham-Van Hollen bill in the House. Her bill is co-sponsored by nearly 30 Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Fifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Watch live: McCarthy holds briefing with reporters MORE (Calif.), House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseFifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Democratic leaders racing toward Monday infrastructure vote House GOP to whip against bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (La.) and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-Texas).
“President Erdogan and his regime must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria, who incurred thousands of casualties in the fight against ISIS and helped us protect the homeland,” Cheney, who is weighing a 2020 Senate bid, said in a statement announcing her bill. “If Turkey wants to be treated like an ally, it must begin behaving like one. They must be sanctioned for their attacks on our Kurdish allies."
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.) and the panel's top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab Top Foreign Affairs Republican seeks declassification of Afghan intel House passes bill to compensate 'Havana syndrome' victims MORE (Texas), also released a sanctions bill Friday that targets Turkish leaders involved in the Syria operation, as well as banks involved in Turkey's defense sector. The measure would also prohibit arms sales to Turkey and sanction Ankara over its purchase of the Russian missile defense system.
The sanctions would apply until Trump certifies to Congress that Turkey has halted its Syria offensive.