Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin put Turkey on notice that it could face new “powerful sanctions” and that the U.S. will “shut down the Turkish economy” if Ankara goes too far in its incursion against the Kurds in northern Syria. (Oct. 11) AP, AP
WASHINGTON – The House Wednesday overwhelmingly backed aresolution condemning President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a rare bipartisan rebuke at a time when the president is trying to shore up GOP support to stave off impeachment.
Trump’s decision to remove the troops near the Turkish border has allowed Turkey to lodge an attack on U.S. Kurdish allies who helped in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS.
The House vote was 354-60 with every Democrat and more than two-thirds of the Republicans supporting the measure.
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a co-sponsor of the resolution, said the pullout has stained America’s reputation as a dependable partner.
“We told them: ‘Trust us. We have your back’,” McCaul said on the House floor minutes before the vote. “And what is happening now? The Kurds are being slaughtered as I speak in northern Syria.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called Trump’s action “shameful” and potentially harmful to the United States.
“It just opened the door for ISIS to reclaim some power,” Hoyer said. “Any terrorist attack they now take will be as a direct result of this action.”
The president tweeted last week that ISIS has been completely defeated and “it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.” In addition, Trump has downplayed the alliance with the Kurds, saying they did not fight alongside the United States in World War II.
Trump returned to that theme in a long exchange with reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday, saying that the Kurds are “not angels” and describing his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region as “strategically brilliant.” The president dismissed reports that Russia had already moved into territory abandoned by the U.S. military.
“It’s not our problem,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, hours before Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were set to travel to Turkey to try to negotiate a ceasefire and avoid a humanitarian crisis.
Trump’s Syria policy has created a rare rift with many of his allies in Congress who have denounced the move both as the betrayal of a key ally and a naive strategy that will allow ISIS to reform and wreak havoc.
Rep. John Shimkus, a conservative Illinois Republican and former Army veteran said the president’s troop withdrawal undermines the nation’s values.
“Walking away from friends is the sad indication of a policy that we don’t want to support,” he said on the floor. “Yes, we want America to be great. But we’re also great because of our friends and our allies.”
More: Syria chaos poses new political perils for Trump by uniting Democratic and GOP lawmakers against him
The policy difference comes at a sensitive time for Trump as he tries to rally GOP support on Capitol Hill during an impeachment inquiry led by the Democratic-controlled House.
“He needs those Republican senators to fight for him,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist and former aide to Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. “And that’s hard to do when they’re fighting with him on Syria.”
The resolution, supported by Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress, calls for Turkey to end its assault in northern Syria against the Kurds, voices opposition to end “United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria” and calls on the U.S. to both protect the Kurds and support the communities now being affected due to the assault.
More: Russia takes over key U.S. outposts in Syria, filling vacuum left by American withdrawal
It notes that the Kurds “fought courageously with the United States against the brutality of ISIS throughout Syria” and that the “abrupt withdrawal” of the U.S. from the region was “beneficial to adversaries of the United States government, including Syria, Iran, and Russia.”
“The chaos and insecurity unleashed in Syria by President Trump’s disastrous decision to precipitously withdraw from northern Syria require strong, smart leadership from Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
More: Trump administration imposes sanctions on Turkey, as critics slam decision to withdraw U.S. troops
The measure was sponsored by Reps. Eliot Engel of New York and McCaul, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sens. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Todd Young, an Indiana Republican on the committee.
The issue in Syria has marked one of the biggest riffs Trump has had with Republicans in Congress, who spent the weekend criticizing him and arguing that it damages U.S. interests.
More: Pentagon to withdraw 1,000 troops from Syria within weeks, pulling back in fight against ISIS
After several days of criticism from both parties, Trump on Monday imposed sanctions on Turkey that would increase steel tariffs to 50% from 25%.
“Indiscriminate targeting of civilians, destruction of civilian infrastructure, and targeting of ethnic or religious minorities is unacceptable,” Trump said in a lengthy statement.
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