WASHINGTON ― Republicans are apoplectic about Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, calling it a shameful betrayal of the Kurds to a deadly Turkish invasion that could lead to a resurgence of the Islamic State in the Middle East.
But ask them what Congress ― an independent institution charged with oversight of the executive branch ― ought to do to remedy the situation, and they scratch their heads, unable to come up with an answer.
“It’s a great question. It’s such a big problem right now, it’s going to take some time to unravel what the next step should be,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Wednesday.
Even Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of Trump’s biggest critics who called the situation in Syria a “very dark moment in American history,” struggled to name a solution.
“We’ve created an extraordinary mess, and the path forward is certainly unclear,” Romney told reporters on Capitol Hill.
On the table is a bipartisan sanctions bill introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that would unleash a series of economic sanctions against Turkey for its incursion into Syria, where a number of human rights violations have been reported following Trump’s decision to effectively greenlight the invasion by pulling U.S. troops out of northern Syria.
It’s not clear, however, how much support there is for such a bill, nor whether it would prove effective. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has notably not committed to bringing it to the floor for a vote. Nor has the Kentucky Republican said whether he’ll allow a vote on a nonbinding bipartisan, bicameral resolution opposing Trump’s Syria policy that passed in the House on Wednesday by a 354-60 vote.
“Turkey is a NATO ally, and we don’t want to totally fracture our relationship with them. We don’t want to further drive them into the arms of the Russians,” McConnell said at a weekly news conference Wednesday.
Though McConnell voiced support for the Kurds and expressed his hope that a Thursday trip by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey “can somehow repair the damage” in the region, he made no remarks during an explosive meeting with Trump and other top congressional lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday afternoon.
During that discussion in the Cabinet Room, Trump berated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after she spoke out against the president’s handling of the Syria crisis. Trump, according to Pelosi, had a “meltdown” and offered no strategy for dealing with the situation going forward. Only two Republicans spoke in the meeting: Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump further undermined the long-standing alliance between U.S. and Kurdish forces who have been fighting alongside each other against ISIS in Syria. The president said that the Kurds are “not angels” and that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is “not our problem.”
The Trump administrations’ abrupt foreign policy shift in the Middle East has brought bipartisan backlash from lawmakers, including top Trump ally Graham. The South Carolina Republican warned Trump was committing the “the biggest mistake of his presidency” by abandoning the Kurds, but he held out hope that Trump might yet correct course on Syria.
“I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making, and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking,” Graham tweeted Wednesday.
Democrats, meanwhile, were skeptical that Republicans might take more drastic action in seeking to force Trump to alter course in the Middle East. As chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, Graham could hold up the president’s nominations to federal courts as leverage over the president. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee could also hold hearings into the matter.
“I don’t think that’s likely to happen. Come on. Take a look around,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told HuffPost on Wednesday.