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 John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' 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 EngelOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request House panel reinvites Pompeo to deliver Iran testimony Pompeo under pressure over threats to Yovanovitch 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 McConnellHawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Democrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner 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 EsperOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall Overnight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon 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 PelosiREAD: House impeachment managers' trial brief Desperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Pelosi offers message to Trump on Bill Maher show: 'You are impeached forever' 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 OmarAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia With surge in anti-Semitism, political leaders need to be aggressive and reflective in response Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair endorses Sanders 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 McCaulTop Indian official canceled congressional meeting over inclusion of Jayapal: report Republican group asks 'what is Trump hiding' in Times Square billboard Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he “applaud[s]” Pence and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process 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 KinzingerPentagon exodus extends 'concerning,' 'baffling' trend of acting officials in key roles Republican group asks 'what is Trump hiding' in Times Square billboard Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill 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 PutinDOJ releases new tranche of Mueller witness documents Russia's shakeup has implications for Putin, Medvedev and the US The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to lay out impeachment case to senators next week 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 GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Senate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenParnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Overnight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon GAO finds Trump administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid MORE (D-Md.) and Sens. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSenate vote on Trump's new NAFTA held up by committee review Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (R-Idaho) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike 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.