Republicans buck Trump on Syria, Afghanistan drawdown plans
"ISIS and al Qaeda have yet to be defeated,” Senate GOP Leader McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s amendment urging the U.S. to continue the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda in Syria and Afghanistan – seen as a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump over his decision to pull troops from Syria – cleared a procedural hurdle in a 68-23 vote Thursday.
A vast majority of Republicans supported the amendment, a move that highlights the growing exasperation members of Congress have with the president’s foreign policy decisions.
“It is not a partisan amendment. It’s not complicated. There is no poison pill. Just an opportunity for senators to go on the record about what the United States should be doing in Syria and Afghanistan,” McConnell announced on the Senate floor Thursday ahead of the vote.
The vote comes amid growing push back from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill on the president’s incessant criticisms of the U.S. intelligence community.
Trump ripped into the intelligence community for contradicting him on a range of issues, including North Korea, Iran, and ISIS, and referred to top intelligence officials as “extremely passive and naïve” earlier in the week.
McConnell’s amendment will be voted on again next week to determine if it should be tacked on to a broader Middle East policy bill. Exact timing for a vote on the final bill has not been announced yet.
The amendment expresses the sense of the Senate that the United States faces continuing threats from terrorist groups operating in Syria and Afghanistan, and that “the precipitous withdrawal” of United States forces from either country could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.
This type of measure is not legally binding because it is not presented to the president for his signature.
But it does send a strong signal to the president that his decision to pull troops from the region isn’t supported by the majority of senators in Congress.
“It would recognize the danger of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict, and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,” McConnell said earlier in the week.
But some Democrats opposed the amendment because they disapprove of the U.S. presence in the region.
"Our troops have been in Syria since 2015 under what I believe are very questionable legal authorities," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in a statement Thursday. "The American people do not want endless war. It is the job of Congress to responsibly end these military interventions and bring our troops home, not to come up with more reasons to continue them, as this amendment does. That is why I voted against it."
On Monday, the Senate voted 74-19 to advance to open debate on a Middle East policy bill that includes fresh sanctions on Syria.
McConnell’s vocal support of the amendment comes after Trump ordered a rapid withdrawal of troops from Syria in December, a move that angered lawmakers across both sides of the aisle.
“We are not the world’s policeman. But we are the leader of the free world. And it is incumbent upon the United States to lead, to continue to maintain a global coalition against terror, and to stand by our local partners who are engaged in a daily fight against the terrorists,” McConnell said.