Furious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria
Congressional Republicans appear poised to hand President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 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 Terner MnuchinWorld Bank approves billion-plus annual China lending plan despite US objections On The Money: Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown | Trump asks Supreme Court to shield financial records from House Democrats | House passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading Hillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC 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 RubioTikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Three dead, several injured in Pensacola naval station shooting MORE (R-Fla.) called the announcement “welcome news,” while Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' 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 HollenThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment Graham, Van Hollen warn Pompeo that 'patience' on Turkey sanctions 'has long expired' Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback 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 McConnellOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties 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 McSallyOvernight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 Planned Parenthood targets GOP senators in seven-figure ad campaign Political ad spending set to explode in 2020 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 EsperOvernight Defense: Suspect in Pensacola shooting identified as Saudi aviation student | Trump speaks with Saudi king after shooting | Esper denies considering 14K deployment to Mideast Pentagon: Reports of 14K troop increase in Mideast 'flat out wrong' The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached 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 RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischHillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon Bipartisan senators call on FERC to protect against Huawei threats Senate panel to vote on Turkey sanctions next week 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 CollinsGiffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities 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 CheneyOvernight 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 Pompeo: US ending sanctions waiver for site where Iran resumed uranium enrichment 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 Owen McCarthyCNN Pelosi town hall finishes third in cable news ratings race, draws 1.6M Economy adds 266K jobs in November, blowing past expectations The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached MORE (Calif.), House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseRepublicans disavow GOP candidate who said 'we should hang' Omar Nunes accuses Democrats of promoting 'conspiracy theories' Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial MORE (La.) and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon watchdog says Syria withdrawal hurt ISIS fight | Vindman testifies on third day of public hearings | Lawmakers to wrap up defense bill talks this week Lawmakers expect to finish defense policy bill negotiations this week Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 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 EngelHouse approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump House leaders: Trump administration asking South Korea to pay more for US troops 'a needless wedge' Trump administration releases 5M in military aid for Lebanon after months-long delay MORE (D-N.Y.) and the panel's top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues Texas GOP congressman calls on governor to postpone execution of Rodney Reed House Republicans add Hunter Biden, whistleblower to impeachment hearing witness wish list 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.