GOP Senators Widen Divide With Trump on Syria

Date : 10/18/2019 @ 12:47AM
Source : Dow Jones News

GOP Senators Widen Divide With Trump on Syria

By Lindsay Wise and Natalie Andrews 

Republican lawmakers responded to President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria with phone calls to the White House, fiery floor speeches and legislation -- crafted with Democrats -- instructing Mr. Trump to explain his plan for Syria to Congress.

The public rebellion in the GOP grew on the same day Turkey agreed to a five-day suspension of its military offensive in Syria, and the U.S. in turn pulled back on economic sanctions.

Congressional Republicans showed no sign of softening their stance on the Syria policy, a day after the House passed a resolution by a 354-60 margin condemning the troop withdrawal.

A number of them, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), said they had spoken with Mr. Trump personally in recent days to express their concerns about Syria.

Others, including Sens. Mitt Romney (R., Utah), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), took to the Senate floor to deliver speeches criticizing the president's Syria policy.

"Sometimes what is popular in the short term is not good for America's national security in the long term, and that's my fear," Mr. Rubio said.

"The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties," Mr. Romney said. "It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Thursday that her emphasis on the broad Republican support for the resolution that passed in the Democratic-controlled House and the lack of a plan from the White House about what to do in the region led Mr. Trump to have a meltdown at a meeting later that day.

The meeting was also the scene of a photo that went viral, in which Mrs. Pelosi, the only woman in the room, is standing and pointing at the president, who is seated with everyone else. Democratic aides called the photo a gift that showed the speaker's power.

Asked about the photo on Thursday, Mrs. Pelosi first said, "I think I was excusing myself from the room" because Democrats left early, but then said, "At that moment, I was probably saying, 'All roads lead to Putin.' "

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, tweeted the same image Wednesday with the text, "Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown."

Mr. Trump is counting on party unity against Democratic efforts to impeach him, and the vast majority of congressional Republicans still backed the president against allegations that he pressured Ukraine to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, the president's political rival. Some have gone so far as to say that it was Mr. Trump's duty to do so, and even Republicans who didn't initially support the president have come to back him.

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), a Trump ally, pointedly didn't criticize Mrs. Pelosi's behavior, and instead praised her for working with Republicans on the bipartisan House resolution.

"I wasn't in the meeting," Mr. Graham said. "I could care less about the personalities. I do care about policy, and I want to applaud the speaker of the House for bringing up the resolution and being willing to work with the president."

Sen. Graham led a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation Thursday that would impose harsh sanctions on Turkey over its offensive in Syria. Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Mr. Graham, said the sponsors plan to push ahead regardless of the news of suspension of military activity.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), includes language declaring that it is the "sense of Congress" that President Trump's decision to pull back troops "has grave consequences" for national security and for America's allies.

It also calls on the president to withdraw his invitation to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit the White House next month and to "seek unity" with European and other partners to condemn Turkey's offensive.

Mr. McConnell has yet to say whether he will bring the measure to the floor for a vote, but he said Thursday he would like to see the Senate pass an even stronger version of the House resolution that passed Wednesday.

Mr. Graham urged Mr. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to allow the Senate to vote on the House-approved resolution.

Mr. Schumer tried to pass that resolution on the Senate floor through unanimous consent Thursday, but Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) blocked it.

"I talked to my friend from Kentucky, he said the Kurds are better off with the Syrians. Well, the Kurds sure don't think so," Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Graham said later Thursday that he spoke with President Trump about the apparent suspension of operations by Turkey in Syria, announced by Vice President Mike Pence shortly after the senators' bill was introduced, and said he stands ready to work with Mr. Trump to build on the deal.

"Sounds like we may have made real progress regarding a cease-fire and hopefully sustainable solutions to prevent the reemergence of ISIS, the abandonment of our ally, the Kurds, and other strategic interests of the United States, like the containment of Iran," Mr. Graham said.

Also on Thursday, Sen. Jim Risch (R., Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), the panel's top Democrat, said they plan to introduce their own legislation that will require the Trump administration to produce a strategy to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, separately introduced the Syrian Allies Protection Act, a bill that would make U.S. visas available to Syrian Kurds who worked with U.S. military forces in Syria.

Ms. Ernst on Thursday introduced a resolution calling on the Defense Department and State Department to provide a plan to Congress within 30 days outlining the U.S. plan to deal with Islamic State. Mr. Rubio is co-sponsoring the resolution, according to a GOP aide.

Despite the Republican rancor, Mr. Trump's support within his party looked solid. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R., Wa.) didn't vote for Mr. Trump in 2016 and opposed GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But she said Thursday that she would still likely support him, largely because of the state of the economy, and dismissed efforts to impeach him as a "goat rodeo."

Write to Lindsay Wise at lindsay.wise@wsj.com and Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 17, 2019 20:32 ET (00:32 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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