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House approves Turkey sanctions in rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump

The House on Tuesday easily approved sanctions against Turkey over its offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish forces.

The measure passed 403-16, with 176 Republicans voting in support and just 15 opposing the bill.

The sanctions offer a rare bipartisan rebuke of President TrumpDonald TrumpDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics MORE's policies while underscoring the growing divide between Congress and a NATO ally. 

Trump had hoped the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on his watch would stem the flow of criticism about his Syria policy, but Congress remains deeply concerned about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's military offensive.

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“Rather than hold Turkey accountable for how they’ve conducted this bloody campaign, President Trump has given them a free pass,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelNY Democratic chair blasts primary challenge against Maloney Carolyn Maloney will face Justice Democrats-backed primary challenger Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority MORE (D-N.Y.) said. “When the head of ISIS was finally killed, President Trump unfortunately thanked the Turks, thanked the Turkish government. That just doesn’t sit right with me.”

The House brought the sanctions bill to the floor under suspension of the rules, meaning it needed at least two-thirds approval to pass.

Despite the bipartisan majority approving the bill in the House, the effort to slap new sanctions on Ankara appears stalled in the upper chamber after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP acknowledges struggle to bring down Biden Pew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Pelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' MORE (R-Ky.) warned against rushing to sanction a NATO ally.

Lawmakers in both parties and chambers introduced multiple bills to sanction Turkey after Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, paving the way for Ankara’s long-threatened invasion.

Trump himself placed sanctions on Turkey, though he lifted them after a five-day cease-fire brokered by Vice President Pence. Turkey agreed to the cease-fire in order to allow the Kurds to evacuate from a so-called safe zone.

Lawmakers slammed Trump for abandoning the Kurds, who were U.S. allies in the battle against ISIS and did the bulk of the most dangerous ground fighting. They have also worried the chaos from the offensive could lead to an ISIS resurgence, including allowing ISIS prisoners to escape from Kurdish-guarded detention facilities.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe paradox of US-India relations Overnight Defense: Trump-era land mine policy unchanged amid review | Biden spending outline coming Friday | First lady sets priorities for relaunched military families initiative Biden to keep Trump-era land mine policy in place during review MORE and special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey have said more than 100 ISIS fighters have escaped since the start of Turkey’s offensive.

“Even with the death of al-Baghdadi, ISIS remains a serious and resurgent threat,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote Biden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire MORE (D-Calif.) said. “The death of a top ISIS leader does not mean the death of ISIS. Scores of fighters remain under uncertain conditions in Syrian prisons and at risk of a jailbreak.”

In a previous rebuke to Trump, the House earlier this month overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing his decision to withdraw U.S. troops.

Trump got a brief reprieve from Republican criticism of his Syria policy after the successful raid over the weekend in northwest Syria that led to the death of al-Baghdadi.

But many lawmakers kept up their criticism, saying the evacuation of the Kurds is tantamount to ethnic cleansing and that Trump appears to be operating on the fly instead of having a strategy by first withdrawing 50 troops and then withdrawing all troops and then deciding a few hundred will stay to guard oil fields.

“Over a time, we’ve seen a pattern emerge. The president of the United States stokes a crisis and then steps in with some sort of half-measure in a failed attempt to look like a great deal is happening,” Engel said. “You can’t be the arsonist and the fireman at the same time.” 

Engel added that Turkey’s offensive has been “ethnic cleansing at its worst.”

The lone Democratic "no" vote came from Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBiden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' McCarthy: GOP not the party of 'nativist dog whistles' White House reverses course on refugee cap after Democratic eruption MORE (D-Minn.), who penned a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month warning Turkey sanctions would be ineffective and could create humanitarian issues.

Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense: Biden makes his Afghanistan decision Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Biden to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he “applaud[s]” Pence and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoPompeo violated ethics rules, State Dept. watchdog finds Why the US needs to clear the way for international justice Tim Scott to participate in GOP event in Iowa MORE for negotiating the cease-fire, which he said “prevented a worst-case scenario from taking place,” and that he was “pleased the administration heard our call for a residual force in Syria.”

But McCaul still supported the bill, which he co-authored with Engel, as helping to “strengthen the president’s hand in ensuring Turkey upholds its commitments.”

“Baghdadi still has thousands of followers committed to terrorism, and while their leader’s death is a huge blow, we must stay vigilant to keep them from reconstituting or carrying out attacks on the West and to our homeland,” McCaul said. “With that, we cannot allow Turkey’s invasion to hinder in any way our counter-ISIS campaign.”

Congress’s ire has also turned toward Turkey, which lawmakers have been increasingly frustrated with over what they describe as its turn away from NATO values.

“I co-sponsored this because I’m worried about the direction of President Erdoğan and the direction he’s taking the Republic of Turkey,” Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerTaylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics Republicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Freedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MORE (R-Ill.) said. “The leader of country with so much to offer the world should not be cozying up to the like of [Russian President] Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinNavalny doctor says he could 'die at any moment' Sunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues Russia blocks key Biden Cabinet officials from entering in retaliation for sanctions MORE and [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.”

Earlier this year, lawmakers pushed Trump to impose mandatory sanctions on Turkey for buying a Russian missile defense system. The administration has yet to levy those sanctions.

In addition to the sanctions bill, the House on Tuesday passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. The bill was fiercely opposed by Turkey, which denies the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of more than 1 million Armenians in 1915 was a genocide.

The votes fell on the same day as Turkey’s Republic Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

The sanctions bill, dubbed the Protect Against Conflict by Turkey Act, would impose financial and visa penalties on officials connected to Turkey’s offensive in Syria, including the defense minister, the chief of the general staff of the Turkish armed forces and the finance minister, as well as sanction the state-owned bank Halkbank.

The bill would also ban arms sales to Turkey and sanction foreigners providing arms to Turkish forces in Syria. It also seeks to force the administration to impose the previously mandated sanctions for Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

McCaul called the S-400 sanctions “very important.”

“How can you be a NATO ally and purchase Russian military equipment?” McCaul asked. “We let Turkey into NATO to protect them from the Soviet Union, and now our NATO ally is buying Russian equipment.”

In the Senate, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' Leaving Afghanistan: Is it victory or defeat? MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents Lawmakers struggle with Capitol security after latest attack Democrats torn on Biden's bipartisan pledge MORE (D-Md.) and Sens. Jim RischJim Elroy RischGOP lawmakers block Biden assistance to Palestinians Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows The Hill's Morning Report - Biden shifts on filibuster MORE (R-Idaho) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line The Memo: Biden's five biggest foreign policy challenges MORE (D-N.J.) have introduced separate sanctions bills.

But last week, McConnell poured cold water on sanctions, questioning if they are the right response to a member of NATO.

“I caution us against developing a reflex to use sanctions as our tool of first, last, and only resort in implementing our foreign policy,” McConnell said at the time.

“Sanctions may play an important role in this process, and I am open to the Senate considering them. But we need to think extremely carefully before we employ the same tools against a democratic NATO ally that we would against the worst rogue states,” he added.

McConnell has introduced his own resolution urging Trump to halt the pullback of U.S. forces and warning that a “precipitous withdrawal” would “create vacuums.” It also urges Trump to rescind his invitation for the Turkish president to visit the White House next month and opposes Turkey’s military action.