Fury over Trump Syria decision grows

Democrats in Congress are vowing to quickly slap new sanctions on Ankara and formally oppose President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria following Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish forces loyal to the United States.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke Monday with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an ally of Trump who is fiercely critical of his policy on Syria, about the need for bipartisan legislation.

“As we find ourselves in a situation where the president gave a green light to the Turks to bomb and effectively unleashed ISIS, we must have a stronger sanctions package than what the White House is suggesting,” said Pelosi.

{mosads}Republicans have excoriated Trump for his decision, but it’s not clear how far they’ll go with legislation to explicitly rebuke him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t tip his hand Monday on what he will support, but said he was “gravely concerned” and that talks would be ongoing in the Senate this week on how to respond.

“Withdrawing American leadership from this pivotal region would not serve our nation’s short-, medium- or long-term interests. … I look forward to discussing what the United States can do to avoid a strategic calamity with my Senate colleagues and with senior administration officials when the Senate returns to Washington this week,” he said.

Graham and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) are expected to introduce a sanctions bill this week that would target Turkey’s military and energy sector. It would also restrict any assets Turkish leadership, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have within U.S. jurisdiction and limit their ability to travel to the United States.

“I will be working across party lines in a bicameral fashion to draft sanctions and move quickly. … The Speaker indicated to me that time was of the essence,” Graham said in a tweet.

Meanwhile, at least two groups of lawmakers — one led by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and another by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas) — are preparing their own sanctions legislation.

In addition to sanctions legislation, lawmakers are working on a joint resolution that would oppose Trump’s strategy, urge Turkey to stop its military operations, and support military and humanitarian efforts for the Kurds.

“Our first order of business was to agree that we must have a bipartisan, bicameral joint resolution to overturn the president’s dangerous decision in Syria immediately,” Pelosi said Monday.

Trump said Monday implemented his own financial penalties — a step lawmakers warned wouldn’t quell the bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill.

“The United States will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate and finance these heinous acts in Syria. I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Trump said.

He added that the penalties and travel restrictions would target Turkish officials involved in human rights abuses or “threatening the peace, security or stability in Syria.”

Democrats said Trump’s move didn’t go far enough.

“Strong sanctions, while good and justified, will not be sufficient in undoing that damage nor will it stop the consequences stemming from the ISIS jailbreak,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a joint statement. “The first step when Congress returns to session this week is for Republicans to join with us in passing a resolution making clear that both parties are demanding the president’s decision be reversed.”

Asked if Trump’s statement scuttled the need for additional legislation, a Democratic leadership aide said, “We have no details beyond a vague statement. Regardless, there is significant bipartisan interest in advancing a legislative sanctions package.”

Trump’s announcement came shortly after he doubled down on his decision to pull back U.S. troops, saying Syrian President Bashar Assad can protect the Kurds.

“Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land,” Trump tweeted. “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

Trump’s invitation to America’s adversaries to protect onetime U.S. partners followed a separate tweet Sunday where he stressed he was working with Graham and others in Congress to impose new sanctions against Turkey, saying there was “great consensus.”

Syria has emerged as a major point of tension between Trump and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill, who blasted his decision to pull back U.S. troops as “catastrophic,” a “terrible decision” and the “biggest blunder of his presidency.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Sunday that Trump had ordered the withdrawal of nearly all 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria. Trump said Monday a “small footprint” of U.S. troops would stay at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria to fight ISIS, while the rest would “redeploy and remain in the region to monitor the situation.”

Meanwhile, reports emerged over the weekend that hundreds of ISIS prisoners had escaped in northern Syria, video of a Turkish-aligned Syrian militia executing Kurds circulated online and the Kurds made a deal for Syrian forces to move into the area for the first time in seven years.

Graham gave Trump some cover Monday after spending the past week repeatedly lashing out at the administration. During a Fox News interview, he placed the blame for the situation in Syria on Turkey, saying Erdoğan had made “the biggest mistake of his life” and “misjudged” Trump.

“There’s going to be crippling sanctions imposed by the Congress to supplement what President Trump’s administration has done,” he said. “I’ve never seen such bipartisan support. We’ve all had it with Erdoğan.”

Schumer stressed during a New York press conference on Sunday that he and Pelosi have been coordinating over the details of the resolution. The Senate voted earlier this year to warn the president against removing troops from Syria, after he initially floated doing so in December.

“We’ve worked so hard and so long to prevent it from happening again,” he said. “We have sacrificed blood and dollars to make it not happen.”

Tags Bob Menendez Chris Van Hollen Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Eliot Engel Jack Reed Kurds Lindsey Graham Liz Cheney Mark Esper Michael McCaul Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Syria Turkey

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