Senate Republicans Rebuke President On Syria And Afghanistan Policy Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's amendment opposing a "precipitous withdrawal" from Syria was backed by many GOP senators who disagree with the president's foreign policy.
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Senate Republicans Rebuke President On Syria And Afghanistan Policy

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Senate Republicans Rebuke President On Syria And Afghanistan Policy

Senate Republicans Rebuke President On Syria And Afghanistan Policy

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Let's stick with the troops for a moment, specifically those serving in Syria and Afghanistan. Back in December, President Trump took many people by surprise when he said he would withdraw troops from Syria, arguing that the mission to defeat ISIS was already complete. Today, Senate Republicans sharply rebuked him for that. Enough Republicans sided with Democrats to advance a resolution that opposes the immediate withdrawal of soldiers in Syria and Afghanistan. The move was led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: ISIS and al-Qaida have yet to be defeated, and American national security interests require continued commitment to our mission.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Tim Mak joins us now from Capitol Hill. Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: This is a resolution. It doesn't actually reverse the president's policy. So what does it accomplish?

MAK: You're right. The resolution can't force a change in President Trump's policy regarding Syria or Afghanistan, but 43 Republicans out of 53 total in the Senate voted to rebuke him on his Syria policy today. It signals to the president that many members of his own party are not with him when it comes to a swift withdrawal and disagree with his belief that ISIS has been defeated. Here's what Trump said in a video message he posted on Twitter back in December.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land, and now it's time for our troops to come back home.

MAK: The unexpected announcement led to the resignation of the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. And many in Trump's own administration have said that ISIS isn't defeated, that there are still thousands of ISIS fighters in the area, and they pose a risk to regional stability.

So the president can do a lot of things on foreign policy unilaterally, but ultimately on major changes relating to funding, relating to policy, he needs to maintain a coalition of support in Congress. And Congress is telling him quite strongly today he doesn't have their support on a quick withdrawal from Syria or Afghanistan.

SHAPIRO: How significant is it that the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, led this effort?

MAK: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks for a large group of hawkish Republicans who have a standing disagreement with the president's foreign policy instincts. Here's Senator McConnell on the Senate floor today.

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MCCONNELL: The United States is engaged in Syria and Afghanistan for one simple reason - because our enemies are engaged there. Real dangers to us and to our allies still remain in both these nations, so we must continue to confront them.

MAK: McConnell is most often an ally of President Trump's, but on this issue, he felt strongly enough to lay down a marker on where he and the vast majority of senators stand. And it's kind of becoming a recurring theme on issues like NATO, on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, on Russia sanctions. Republican lawmakers have repeatedly stood up to the president on his national security instincts. It really does seem like foreign policy is the one major area where Republicans aren't afraid to break with the president, unlike issues like health care or taxes or immigration.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Are Republicans on the Hill signaling that they are more willing to openly break with the president on other matters of foreign policy?

MAK: You know, one issue to watch and one issue I'm watching is going to be how Congress reacts to U.S. support for the Saudis in the ongoing war in Yemen. Republicans like Senator Mike Lee and Congressman Ken Buck - they've joined with progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders to invoke the War Powers Act to stop U.S. military assistance from being provided to the Saudis. Back in December, the Senate voted to do just this, but the House didn't take it up. There's a good chance that the new House and Senate will address this issue and try to force the president's hand, leading to a confrontation regarding U.S. policy in Yemen later this year.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tim Mak speaking with us from the Capitol. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot.

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