Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections

Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections
© Aaron Schwartz

A Senate panel on Wednesday advanced a sanctions bill targeting Turkey over its offensive in Syria and its purchase of a Russian missile defense system.

In an 18-4 vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the bill despite objections from the Trump administration and Ankara.

“We find ourselves at an inflection point with Turkey,” committee ranking member Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezGovernment watchdog: 'No evidence' Pompeo violated Hatch Act with Kansas trips No time to be selling arms to the Philippines Senate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation MORE (D-N.J.) said. “Turkey’s actions over the past year are truly beyond the pale.”

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U.S. lawmakers have been furious with Turkey since October when it launched an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces who were integral to the U.S.-led fight against ISIS.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer employees critique EPA under Trump in new report Fired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to 'bully' him over investigations Virginia senator calls for Barr to resign over order to clear protests MORE also faced widespread criticism for announcing a withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, which paved the way for Turkey’s incursion.

Congress’s patience with Ankara had already been wearing thin since Turkey took delivery over the summer of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system. Turkey went through with the purchase despite warnings from U.S. officials the system was a threat to the U.S.-made F-35 fighter jet and would mean sanctions.

In response to the S-400 purchase, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program. But the Trump administration has not yet imposed sanctions over the purchase, despite the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) requiring sanctions on those who do business with Russia’s defense sector.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischDemocrat Paulette Jordan to face incumbent Jim Risch in Idaho Senate race Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Senate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation MORE (R-Idaho) argued Wednesday that Turkey “thumbed their nose at us” with the S-400 purchase and that “if we just look the other way on this ... we will be viewed as weak.”

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Speaking to reporters after the committee vote, Risch said he was in discussions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill MORE (R-Ky.) to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote, but cautioned that the chamber is expected to be busy soon with impeachment proceedings.

McConnell has previously expressed concern about passing a Turkey sanctions bill because it is a NATO ally.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill Democratic senator to offer amendment halting 'military weaponry' given to police Second senator tests positive for coronavirus antibodies MORE (R-Ky.) relayed the Trump administration’s objections to the sanctions bill, saying the administration penned letters raising concerns. Among the issues raised was that the sanctions would take away “flexibility” in negotiating with Turkey, said Paul, who voted against the bill.

The other “no” votes Wednesday came from Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzRosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Clyburn: Cowed GOP ascribes 'mystical powers' to Trump GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters MORE (R-Texas), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility GOP senator blocks bill giving flexibility to small-business loans but says deal near MORE (R-Wis.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on the cusp of formally grasping the Democratic nomination Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez defeats Valerie Plame in New Mexico primary Republican Mark Ronchetti to face Rep. Ben Ray Luján in New Mexico Senate race MORE (D-N.M.).

The House passed a Turkey sanctions bill in October in an overwhelming, veto-proof 403-16 vote.

Risch, though, had wanted to hold off on passing a sanctions bill to give space for the Trump administration and Ankara to negotiate a resolution to the S-400 issue.

Risch and several other Republican senators met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he visited the White House last month and relayed a warning that he must get rid of the S-400.

But since then Erdoğan has shown no signs of reversing course. On his way home from Washington, Erdoğan said he would not give up the S-400, and a couple of weeks ago, Turkey tested the system’s radars by flying U.S.-made F-16s over Ankara.

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu suggested Turkey could retaliate against sanctions by booting U.S. troops from Incirlik Air Base and Kurecik Radar Station. Incirlik has been a major launchpad for U.S. military operations against ISIS. The United States is also said to be housing about 50 nuclear warheads at Incirlik.

Turkey has claimed — and Trump has echoed — that it turned to the S-400 because the U.S. wouldn’t sell it the Patriot missile defense system.

The U.S. has offered to sell Turkey the Patriot since the Obama administration, but would not share sensitive technology Turkey wants to be able to build its own weapons.

Risch called the idea that the U.S. wouldn’t sell Turkey the Patriot an “absolute lie.”

“Any statement by the Turks that we wouldn’t sell them the Patriot is an absolute lie,” Risch said, citing an October 2012 statement he and Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOn The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility GOP senator blocks bill giving flexibility to small-business loans but says deal near This week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting MORE (D-N.H.) delivered to the Turks about the offer.