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 ShaheenProgressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows 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 EsperPentagon chief: US giving Vietnam surplus ship for coast guard Talks stall on defense costs with South Korea Overnight 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 MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley as Congress grapples with how to respond to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate 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 PelosiKlobuchar shuts down idea a woman can't beat Trump: 'Pelosi does it every day' Budowsky: Trump destroying GOP in 2018, '19, '20 On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal 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) MenendezSenate passes legislation supporting Hong Kong protesters Graham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's Morning Report - Wild Wednesday: Sondland testimony, Dem debate take center stage Tester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ind.) have introduced a companion version of the resolution in the Senate. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Fireworks on health care expected at Dem debate | Trump FDA pick dodges on vaping ban | Trump to host meeting on youth vaping Friday | AMA calls for immediate vaping ban GOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE (R-Ky.) said Thursday he wants the upper chamber to take up "something stronger."

Meanwhile, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Report on alleged surveillance abuse in 2016 to be released Dec. 9 McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Democrats raise privacy concerns over Amazon home security system Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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 ReedSenators want Air Force probe into allegations military housing provider faked records Overnight 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 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 SullivanRomney, Collins, Murkowski only Senate GOP holdouts on Graham's impeachment resolution GOP worries it's losing impeachment fight Senate GOP introduces resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry 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 KingOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing 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.”