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 ShaheenOn 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 Overnight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring 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 EsperTrump holds chummy meeting with Turkey's Erdoğan Overnight Defense: Pentagon says Syrian oil revenue going to Kurdish forces | GOP chair accuses Dems of using Space Force as leverage in wall fight | Dems drop plans to seek Bolton testimony Pentagon: Revenue from Syria oil fields going to Kurdish-led forces MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley as Congress grapples with how to respond to President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 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 PelosiOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Speaker Pelosi, it's time to throw American innovators a lifeline Why Americans must tune in to the Trump impeachment hearings 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) MenendezGraham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Trump hosts Erdoğan at White House | Says Turkish leader has 'great relationship with the Kurds' | Highlights from first public impeachment hearing Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Former AG Sessions enters Alabama Senate race MORE (R-Ind.) have introduced a companion version of the resolution in the Senate. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Graham: Senate trial 'must expose the whistleblower' Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) said Thursday he wants the upper chamber to take up "something stronger."

Meanwhile, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Graham: Senate trial 'must expose the whistleblower' Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOn The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war GAO reviewing Trump hold on Ukraine military aid Democrats unveil proposal for 'millionaires surtax' 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 ReedIt's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number America's avengers deserve an advocate Democrats unifying against Joe Kennedy Senate bid 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.”