WASHINGTON (AP) — A “dark day.” A “betrayal.” The “biggest mistake of this presidency,” and “really delusional.”
And that was President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans.
Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of northern Syria — triggering a deadly Turkish invasion targeting the U.S.’s erstwhile Syrian Kurdish allies — has unmuzzled GOP lawmakers in a manner seldom seen since Trump entered the White House.
In a time when the threat of a caustic Trump tweet is enough to stifle open internal dissent, the extent and strong language Republicans are using to assail his policy is Syria has been striking.
A statistical measurement of the party’s disgruntlement was on eye-catching display in in the House, which voted Wednesday by an overwhelming 354-60 to voice its opposition to Trump’s troop pullback.
Remarkably, Republicans voted 129-60 for the nonbinding measure, delivering a stinging repudiation of Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the chamber’s two other top GOP leaders joined in lawmakers’ lopsided slap at Trump’s decision.
Making Republican defections all the more noteworthy: They came as the two parties are at each other’s throats over the Democratic impeachment inquiry of the president.
While virtually all Republicans have rallied behind Trump in the impeachment fight, this is a moment — barely a year from the 2020 elections — when the White House and GOP lawmakers can ill afford to show divisions.
No one was suggesting the GOP’s schism with Trump over Syria would soften the party’s opposition to tossing him out of office.
“That’s a completely different issue,” said No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
No Republicans attacked Trump personally, instead carefully focusing their criticism on the policy.
Still, the unfettered way in which Republicans openly belittled his troop withdrawal was noteworthy, both for its sweep and for the freedom that GOP lawmakers seemed to feel in opposing him.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called it a “dark day” that would have been “much darker” if the two parties hadn’t united in voicing their opposition to the troop pullback.
No. 3 House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming said Syrian Kurds are “facing what looks like a betrayal” by the U.S.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who’s been a staunch Trump defender since he entered the White House but a critic of his troop withdrawal, said Trump was making “the biggest mistake of this presidency.”
While Trump had said the Kurds would be fine because “they know how to fight,” Graham told reporters, “To suggest the Kurds are safer is really delusional.”
And Graham all but said Trump would be to blame if there’s a new terrorist attack by Islamic State militants. Many fear that group will be revived as Turkey batters the very Kurdish fighters who’ve been helping the U.S. neutralize them.
“It’s going to be to the president’s detriment if there’s any attacks on our country, inspired attacks, not directly attacks, then he’ll own it,” Graham said.
Also wading in was Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who’s not seeking reelection and has clashed with Trump over immigration and other issues.
Hurd called Trump’s withdrawal a “disastrous decision” because the U.S. is abandoning an ally and ceding influence in the region to adversaries like Russia and Iran. He recalled his pre-Congress experience as an undercover CIA counter-terrorism officer.
“One of the things I learned when I was in the CIA was to be nice with nice guys and tough with tough guys, not the other way around,” he said pointedly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly called the move “a mistake” and expressed a determination to do something to correct it, though the answer is unclear.
A former senator and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who had frequent clashes with Trump and retired last year, has made few public statements since leaving Congress but weighed in on Wednesday.
Asked in an interview why the GOP pushback has been so strong, Corker said, “It was such an irresponsible, precipitous decision where thousands of people are going to die. It’s at a whole new level.”
Democrats, of course, showed no hesitance in using even stronger language against Trump.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., labeled the withdrawal a “dangerous and stupid decision.”
And Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a former Marine and Iraq War veteran, said Trump “has never put his life on the line for his country” like U.S. soldiers in Syria have done.
“Perhaps if he had not dodged the draft by lying about his feet, sending another American in his place to Vietnam,” he’d know that “nothing is more evil than betrayal,” Moulton said.
That was a reference to a deferment that allowed Trump to not serve in the Vietnam War due to bone spurs. Critics have accused him of draft dodging because Trump hasn’t been able to recall which foot had the problem.