WASHINGTON ― The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops back from northern Syria, which allowed Turkey’s assault against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria. The vote was 354-60.
Of Republicans, 129 voted with 225 Democrats ― a strong bipartisan vote that’s not only a rebuke of Trump but adds pressure for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the measure to the floor. McConnell has urged Trump “to exercise American leadership” but hasn’t committed to any action.
The four-page resolution, from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, calls on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “immediately cease unilateral military action in Northeast Syria and to respect existing agreements relating to Syria.”
It also calls on the U.S. to continue supporting Syrian Kurdish communities through humanitarian support, including to those displaced or otherwise affected by ongoing violence in Syria, and to work to ensure the Turkish military acts with restraint and respects existing agreements relating to Syria.
Calling it a “rare moment” of bipartisan agreement, McCaul said he expects bipartisan support in the Senate as well. “This is going to pass the House and the Senate, sending a strong message about our foreign policy,” he said.
The action came ahead of a planned Oct. 16 meeting between Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Erdogan designed to calm tensions in the region, heightened since Turkish forces began a military assault a week ago.
Trump’s decision has drawn widespread criticism from lawmakers, former military leaders and outside defense experts, who said it amounted to abandoning Kurdish allies in the region who had worked closely with American forces in the fight against the Islamic State group. The White House announced sanctions against Turkey for the military aggression, and Congress is considering further restrictions this week.
Critics have said Trump’s decision betrayed Kurdish allies, endangered Israel and benefited Russia, Iran, the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the remnants of ISIS. But Trump was defiant in remarks Wednesday, saying U.S. troops serving in Syria are “totally safe” amid fighting among local military forces thanks to “strategically brilliant” moves to pull back American assets in recent days.
“We’re not going to be fighting, we don’t want to be fighting. I don’t think there is any reason to anyway," Trump said. “If Syria wants to fight for their land, that’s up to Turkey and Syria, as it has been for hundreds of years. For hundreds of years they have been fighting, as have been the Kurds. It’s a mess.”
Speaking from the House floor hours later, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer, said it was important that the House show “that President Trump’s reckless actions do not carry the support of the American people."
“It is critical that we condemn Turkey’s incursion as well and to do so in a bipartisan way,” the Maryland representative said. “I know it was difficult for some, but it is the right thing to do. The House will do everything in its power to reassure our allies and remind our adversaries that America does not cut and run, that we stand by our word and hold true to our values and stand with our friends.”
A handful of libertarian Republicans have defended the president as finding an exit to a complicated, long-running conflict where they say America does not belong. Likewise, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and one of Trump’s staunchest allies in the House, said he would not vote for the resolution, despite his concern for the Kurds.
The resolution, Meadows said, “is taking on a political tinge, which disappoints me.” He challenged House Democrats to introduce an authorization of the use of military force for Syria if it they are serious about maintaining a troop presence there.
Also on Wednesday, more than 90 of Trump’s fellow Republicans in the House introduced sanctions against Turkey aimed at ending its assault against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria. That House bill follows the efforts of Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who are expected to introduce their version on Thursday.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.