WASHINGTON — When it comes to President Donald Trump’s preference for pulling troops out of the Middle East, the Senate on Thursday delivered a basic, bipartisan statement: not so fast.
Senators voted 68 to 23 in favor of a resolution warning that America faces continuing threats from terrorist groups in both Syria and Afghanistan and that “precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from either country could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.”
That vote is a rebuke of Trump’s foreign policy generally and his specific announcement that he plans to start pulling troops out of Syria.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency,” he wrote on Twitter in December.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Thursday’s amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is not legally binding and is now attached to a pending broader Middle East policy bill that may struggle to pass the House.
Still, it reflects a willingness of GOP lawmakers to speak out against some of the foreign policy moves being made by their fellow Republican in the White House.
All four Republican senators from Nebraska and Iowa supported the amendment, which calls on the administration to “certify that conditions have been met for the enduring defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS before initiating any significant withdrawal of United States forces from Syria or Afghanistan.”
The situation in Syria is at a critical point, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa told reporters Thursday.
“I’ve been clear in my opposition to any withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria — an issue the president and I disagree on,” Ernst said. “I believe our mission there is to defeat ISIS, and that hasn’t been accomplished yet.”
Pulling American troops out would bolster ISIS, embolden Russia and deter allies in the Middle East from cooperating with the U.S., Ernst said.
She said she has expressed her opposition to withdrawal to the president directly in the Oval Office and will continue doing so.
“He has stated, and I think he has been advised by others, that ISIS has been defeated in Syria, but what intelligence shows us is that they have not,” Ernst said.
Bipartisan concern about hasty withdrawals extends to the other side of the Capitol as well.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said he expressed those concerns with administration officials during a classified briefing this week.
“We need to do this cautiously,” Bacon said. “Otherwise, we undermine the gains we’ve made.”
For her part, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said she saw Thursday’s vote as less of a message to the president. Instead, she described it as a statement that Congress should reassert itself in the foreign policy arena after many years of being overly deferential to the executive branch.
“I don’t look at it as sending a message necessarily to an individual,” Fischer said. “I think it’s just showing that the Senate takes its constitutional responsibilities seriously.”