Irked lawmakers say Kerry left them in the dark on Syria aid

Lawmakers on Thursday said the State Department left Congress in the dark about the administration's decision to aid rebel forces in Syria.

The leaders of the panels that cover foreign policy told The Hill they weren't briefed ahead of Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Longtime Biden adviser posthumously tests positive for coronavirus MORE's announcement Thursday that America would be sending $60 million worth of food and medicine directly to the rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services panels — Sens. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees MORE (D-N.J.) and Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy The Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy MORE (D-Mich.) — weren't informed ahead of time, but did not express complaints.

Republicans also weren't informed, and expressed dismay at being shut out as the administration crafts a major piece of America's policy in the Middle East.

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Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Kerry used to chair, said his staff were talking to the State Department until 8 p.m. Wednesday to get a sense of what might be discussed at Thursday's meeting in Rome with the Syrian opposition. They were told nothing.

“So, we're going to have a little discussion with them about that,” he said. “I mean, look, we probably support the policy. But we were a little disappointed that no head's up was given. It's not a good way to start out and we want to make sure it does not happen again.”

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he wasn't briefed, either.

“Isn't that strange?” he said. “Yeah, I should have.”

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senator suspending campaign fundraising, donating paycheck amid coronavirus pandemic Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Juan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal MORE (R-Ariz.), who preceded Inhofe in the role and has called for arming the rebels, said the administration “certainly won't communicate with us on Syria.”

“It's a half measure,” he said. “And I know from my sources that many of those weapons [provided by other countries in ] are not getting through … are going to the wrong people, these jihadist outfits. And here we are 23 months into it, 70,000 dead, so it's a small half-measure."

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), said the decision to blindside Congress was unsurprising.

“There's lots of things they don't brief us on,” he said. “That's just kind of way things go. I can't lose any sleep over that; they're going to do what they're going to do.”

He declined to weigh in on the policy itself.

“Generally,” he said, arming groups “doesn't work very well for us. At some point, they start using bullets to shoot back at us.”

Decisions on Syria by all accounts have been made within the White House National Security Council. 

National security leaders in the president's first term — Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' Poll: Biden holds slight edge on Trump in Wisconsin MORE at State, Leon Panetta at Defense, David Petraeus at the CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey — all supported arming the rebels last summer but were overruled by a White House concerned about getting involved in another Middle East war and providing weapons that could be one day be used against America.

Congress has been losing patience with months of assertions by the White House and the State Department that Assad would fall “any day now.”

Republican hawks led by McCain and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' Coronavirus crisis scrambles 2020 political calculus Trump reviews Pelosi on morning TV: 'She wasn't bad' MORE (S.C.) have called for arming the opposition. And Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPompeo: Countries must 'step up,' provide 'transparent' coronavirus information to save lives China did not count coronavirus positives if patient had no symptoms: report Trump seeks to sell public on his coronavirus response MORE (R-Fla.), in a foreign policy address Wednesday, pressed for the administration to begin sending ammunition to the Syrian fighters.

Kerry's announcement fell short of reports that the administration was considering sending body armor and helmets. He defended the decision during a press conference in Rome, his fourth stop on his nine-nation inaugural trip.

“I am absolutely confident from what I heard in there from other foreign ministers that the totality of this effort is going to have an impact on the ability of the Syrian opposition to accomplish its goals,” Kerry said.

This story was updated at 5:13 p.m.