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House to vote on resolution rebuking Trump’s Syria troop withdrawal

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WASHINGTON ― As Congress seeks a way to reverse the damage from the U.S. military pullback from northern Syria, the House is expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s decision.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday urged Republican lawmakers to back the measure. Bipartisan support could add pressure for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the measure to the floor―though he was noncommittal about any action Tuesday afternoon.

The measure underscores an overwhelming congressional consensus that Trump’s decision has damaged U.S. interests in the region and helped adversaries, including the Islamic State, Russia and Iran.

“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,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement, adding: “With one voice, we call on President Trump to support Kurdish communities, to work to ensure that the Turkish military acts with restraint, and to present a clear strategy to defeat ISIS.”

The resolution, from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, says Congress opposes the U.S. troop pullback. The withdrawal prompted Turkey’s attacks on Syrian Kurds, who’d been the top U.S. ally in the region against Islamic State fighters.

An identical bipartisan measure is being introduced in the Senate.

The measure says Turkey should halt military actions in Syria and says the U.S. should send humanitarian aid to the embattled Kurds. It also calls on Trump to produce “a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat” of the Islamic State.

Engel and McCaul have also offered sanctions against Turkey, and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., are expected to introduce their own sanctions legislation on Thursday. Though McConnell has not committed to bringing any legislation to the Senate floor, Van Hollen told reporters, “We’re building momentum.”

On Thursday, Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a closed door hearing with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley in an effort to find a substantive path for Congress to turn the crisis around.

“There just isn’t an easy answer for that, and that’s why we’re having the hearing,”

Describing himself as a longtime friend of Masoud Barzani, a former president of Kurdistan, Inhofe said he disagreed with both Trump’s decision to withdraw the troops and with Turkey’s subsequent invasion, “which might end up in the mass murder of a lot of people.”

Despite Trump’s campaign promise to end “endless wars,” Trump is paying a political price as he isolates even his supporters on this issue. Supporters at Trump’s recent Minneapolis rally, by Inhofe’s reckoning, did not respond well to his justification for the troop withdrawal.

“I’ve been one of the strongest supporters of this president, but I disagree with him on this,” Inhofe said, adding that while Oklahoma is overwhelmingly for Trump, calls to his office were 20-to-1 against Trump’s proposed Syria withdrawal in December.

While McConnell was non-committal about what action the Senate might take, he has has criticized Trump’s decision indirectly and, in a floor speech Tuesday, voiced “grave concern” about the U.S. response to the escalating crisis.

McConnell called for the U.S. to continue its support of its Syrian Kurdish allies and called on NATO ally Turkey’s escalation of hostilities against them, “completely and totally unacceptable.”

Help from Kurdish fighters had nearly defeated the Islamic State, McConnell said, which left, “a power vacuum begging for the meddling influence of Russia, leaving northeastern Syria wide open for Iran to extend its reach unimpeded all the way from Tehran to the doorstep of our friends in Israel.”

In his Senate floor speech, McConnell only mentioned Trump to say earlier this year a bipartisan supermajority of senators supported a measure against the early withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, when it looked like Trump was planning to withdraw from Syria.

“The Senate spoke clearly and said that we must ensure we have set the conditions for an enduring defeat of the terrorists before any withdrawal,” McConnell said.

In his remarks, he said he looked forward to speaking with lawmakers of both parties and the administration about “ how the U.S. can stand with our partners and provide strong, principled and consistent global leadership.”

The remarks came as Russia moved to fill the void left when Trump decided to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria, deploying troops to keep apart advancing Syrian government forces and Turkish troops. The American move effectively abandoned the Kurdish fighters who were allied with the U.S. and cleared the way for Turkey’s invasion aimed at crushing them.

Inhofe suggested Trump, despite campaigning on ending “endless wars,” that he is paying a political price for this recent move. By Inhofe’s reckoning, when Trump attempted to justify his action at a rally in Minneapolis last week, “his followers didn’t agree with that position.”

“There’s no state that’s a stronger Trump state than Oklahoma, and yet [calls to our office] have been 20 to 1 in opposition to what he wanted to do,” Inhofe said, adding: “I’m one of the strongest supporters of this president but I disagree with him on this.”

Amid broad criticism of his Syria decision, Trump has since taken executive action to levy new financial penalties on Turkey, which would target Turkish officials involved in human rights abuses or that threaten “peace, security or stability in Syria.”

The United States also called on Turkey to stop the invasion and declare a ceasefire, and Trump is sending Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser Robert O’Brien to Ankara as soon as possible in an attempt to begin negotiations.

Pence said Trump spoke directly to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who promised not attack the border town of Kobani, which in 2015 witnessed the Islamic State group’s first defeat in a battle by U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

Trump said the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops who had been partnering with local Kurdish fighters to battle the Islamic State in northern Syria are leaving the country. They will remain in the Middle East, he said, to “monitor the situation” and to prevent a revival of the Islamic State — a goal that even Trump’s allies say has become much harder as a result of the U.S. pullout.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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