Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing

Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing
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Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee leaving a closed-door briefing on Syria warned Thursday that the damage caused by a U.S. military withdrawal and subsequent Turkish invasion may be "irreversible."

“I fear this is irreversible,” Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia MORE (D-N.H.) said. “But the question is, can we prevent the humanitarian catastrophe, can we address the detainees who have escaped and who will be escaping. And that’s the challenge that we have now.”

“It’s a mess,” she added.

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Asked if the situation was reversible, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who put the blame on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said he “can’t imagine Erdoğan is going to change what he’s doing.”

The committee received a classified briefing from Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperCoronavirus threatens joint US-South Korea military exercises: reports Hillicon Valley: Agencies play catch-up over TikTok security concerns | Senate Dems seek sanctions on Russia over new election meddling | Pentagon unveils AI principles Pentagon outlines new principles for use of AI MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley as Congress grapples with how to respond to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests Sotomayor, Ginsburg should have to recuse themselves on 'Trump related' cases Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' Sanders releases list of how to pay for his proposals MORE’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish forces.

The briefing also comes a day after a White House meeting with congressional leaders devolved into chaos, with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBottom Line Immigrants who seek opportunity should comply with longstanding American values Trump's intel moves spark Democratic fury MORE (D-Calif.) accusing Trump of having a “meltdown” and Trump tweeting that it was Pelosi who had a “total meltdown.”

The full Senate and House had been scheduled to receive briefings Thursday, but they were nixed Wednesday afternoon before the White House meeting. Esper and Milley are also expected to brief the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution formally opposing Trump’s withdrawal and urging Turkey to stop its military incursion.

Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMenendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRepublican Senate campaign arm hauled in over million in January The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' MORE (R-Ind.) have introduced a companion version of the resolution in the Senate. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer on Trump intel shakeup: 'Disgrace,' 'closer to a banana republic' Bottom Line The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders's momentum puts Democrats on edge MORE (R-Ky.) said Thursday he wants the upper chamber to take up "something stronger."

Meanwhile, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Five things to know about emerging US, Taliban peace deal MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development Senate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign MORE (D-Md.) are expected to introduce a sanctions bill later Thursday targeting Turkey’s energy sector and military.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who said he will be one of the co-sponsors of Graham’s sanctions bill, said it would “hopefully push back and reverse the Turkish invasion and the unfolding disaster.”

“To an extent, the egg may be scrambled, but we have an obligation to do whatever we can,” Blumenthal told reporters after the Armed Services briefing. “We are at a moment of reckoning for the United States of America, where we see clear disaster unfolding before us in real time. We have an obligation to act.”

Blumenthal said he thinks there is “very powerful and increasing” support for the bill and urged McConnell to take up the bill “as soon as possible.”

But it’s unclear whether congressional action would spur Erdoğan or Trump to change course and undo the consequences of ISIS prisoners escaping detention in Syria, the Kurds aligning with Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad, and potential future partners viewing the United States as unreliable.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Pavlich: The Senate defends its integrity Five Senate Democrats make impeachment case in Spanish MORE (R.I.), said the ability to fight ISIS has been “supremely complicated” and that “time will tell” if the damage can be reversed.

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanSwing votes steal spotlight in marathon Trump impeachment Q&A Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial The Hill's Campaign Report: Ten days to Iowa MORE (R-Alaska), meanwhile, said it “remains to be seen” whether the counter-ISIS mission can be prosecuted without U.S. troops in Syria.

Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOcasio-Cortez defends Sanders running as a Democrat: It's 'more than what you call yourself' Use of voting tabulation apps raise red flags on Capitol Hill Patrick Dempsey to star in pilot for CBS political drama 'Ways and Means' MORE (I-Maine) added that “it’s going to be very difficult” to reverse the damage.

“Erdoğan is going to do what he does, but I think he need to know that there are risks and potential consequences, particularly for ethnic consequence,” King said of whether congressional action will be effective.

“There’s the immediate damage and there’s a danger to the people in that region,” he added. “People are already fleeing, there are refugees. But the longer-term damage is what I’m also concerned about, which is A) how we treat allies and whether we will be able to recruit allies in the future, and B) there’s a geopolitical political issue with Iran, opening up something that they’ve wanted for a long time, which is essentially a land bridge through Syria and Lebanon to endanger Israel.”