Bipartisan House Rebuke of Trump Over Syria Withdrawal Leads to Blow Up
WASHINGTON – The House delivered a resounding bipartisan condemnation of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria on Wednesday, even as the president sought to distance himself from the Turkish assault against the Kurds that followed the withdrawal.
Despite being bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, Democrats and Republicans came together to vote 354-60 on a resolution condemning the troop withdrawal and the betrayal of the Kurds, who have been crucial American allies in the fight against ISIS.
In all, 129 Republicans voted to condemn the president’s action.
The vote came just before a bipartisan group of congressional leaders were scheduled to meet with Trump to discuss the Turkish incursion, a meeting that ended abruptly after Trump insulted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats were asked to leave.
It also came hours before Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were to travel to Ankara, Turkey, to call for a cease-fire in a battle the president appears to have caused.
Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
The fast-moving developments came on a day when the president had repeatedly told reporters at the White House that the United States has no stake in supporting the Kurdish fighters, many of whom saw fellow soldiers and family members die as they fought side by side with U.S. troops against Islamic State extremists.
Standing alongside Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who was visiting the White House Wednesday, Trump reiterated his belief that the U.S. has no business in the Middle East.
“We’re in countries — we’re protecting countries that don’t even like us,” Trump said in the East Room of the White House. “They take advantage of us. They don’t pay. Nothing.”
He also rejected the suggestion that he was surprised by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s launching an offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria just two days after Trump suddenly he was withdrawing the U.S. from the area.
“President Erdoğan’s decision didn’t surprise me because he’s wanted to do that for a long time,” Trump said. “He’s been building up troops on the border with Syria for a long time.”
Erdoğan has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the U.S. and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.
Erdogan has said he wants to create a 20-mile-deep “safe zone” in Syria.
“Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area. And it didn’t surprise me at all,” Trump said. “[T]hey’ve been warring for many years. It’s unnatural for us, but it’s sort of natural for them. They fight, and they fight long and they fight hard. And they’ve been fighting Syria for a long time and … I say, ‘Why are we protecting Syria’s land? Assad is not a friend of ours. Why are we protecting their land?'”
As for the Kurds, Trump said not to worry.
“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”
Trump said he is fulfilling a campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Syria not only betrays the Kurdish fighters but stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens an important region to Russia, which is moving in.
“We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them work it out,” Trump said. “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”
Later, addressing reports that Russia is using the conflict to expand its influence in the region, he added, “Syria may have some help from Russia, and that’s fine.”
“They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with,” Trump said.
“Let them fight their own wars,” he added.
Trump was also asked about South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of his strongest allies on Capitol Hill, who has called the withdrawal the worst decision of Trump’s presidency.
“Lindsey Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years with thousands of soldiers and fighting other people’s wars. I want to get out of the Middle East,” Trump said, repeating a talking point he’s used before in regard to Graham.
“I think Lindsey should focus right now on judiciary … The people of South Carolina don’t want us to get into a war with Turkey — a NATO member — or with Syria. … The people of South Carolina want to see those troops come home. And I won an election based on that.”
As Trump spoke, the House vote condemning his actions was underway.
“At President Trump’s hands, American leadership has been laid low, and American foreign policy has become nothing more than a tool to advance his own interests,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
It was Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who introduced the condemnation measure.
“Today we make clear that the Congress is a coequal branch of government and we want nothing to do with this disastrous policy,” he said.
Although the resolution is largely symbolic, Trump was reportedly outraged by it.
Pelosi said Trump appeared visibly “shaken up” after learning of the House passage of the resolution and the number of Republicans who voted in favor of it.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat told reporters as he left the White House that what occurred in the Oval Office wasn’t a dialogue, but “sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts.”
The Democrats said Trump called Pelosi “a third-rate politician.” The White House disagreed, saying what the president actually called Pelosi was a “third-grade” politician.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who also attended the session, turned to Pelosi and Schumer and said, “this is not productive, we should leave.”
With that, they did.
Speaking to reporters outside the West Wing, Hoyer said, “You’re going to hear the President say we walked out.
“We were offended deeply by his treatment of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The President, in my view, has created a crisis in the Middle East. A crisis that undermines the world’s confidence in America,” Hoyer said. “This crisis required a rational, reasonable discussion between those of us who’ve been elected by the American people to set policy. Unfortunately, the meeting deteriorated into a diatribe, as Leader Schumer has said, and very offensive accusations being made by the President of the United States. I have served with six presidents. I have been in many, many, many meetings like this. Never have I seen a President treat so disrespectfully a co-equal branch of the government of the United States.”
Pelosi told reporters “what we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown.”
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