McConnell invites Dems to go harder against Trump on Syria

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the House for rebuking President Trump’s Syria withdrawal Thursday, but said the resolution the other chamber passed opposing it should be even stronger.

The House on Wednesday condemned Trump's summary retreat from the Syrian battlefield as a betrayal of Kurdish allies, with 129 Republicans joining all Democrats on the vote.

"My preference would be for something even stronger than the resolution the House passed yesterday, which has some serious weaknesses," McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

Since Trump cleared Northern Syria of U.S. forces who had been working wsith Kurds to contain ISIS, Turkey has invaded, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee, and allowing numerous ISIS captives to escape prisons run by the Kurds.

McConnell argued that the bill should affirm support for Syrian religious minorities who had been protected by the U.S. presence, and spell out what U.S. forces should return to the battle.

"I believe it's important that we make a strong, forward-looking strategic statement," McConnell said, though he never mentioned Trump by name or his meeting at the White House Wednesday that saw Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi depart in anger.

McConnell said he suspected language affirming a specific U.S. military presence was omitted to spare Democrats. He didn't specify which ones, but he did point to 2020 candidates who opposed a Senate measure early in the year warning against premature withdrawals from Syria or Afghanistan.

Schumer, speaking soon after McConnell, highlighted the lack of any strategy articulated by Trump and his braintrust to deal with Syria as the real reason he and Pelosi stormed out — not just the “third-grade political” insults Trump hurled at the House speaker.

"Alarmingly, the president had no plan," Schumer said. "The greatest insult that occurred in that room was not any of the name-calling that Trump did. A far greater insult to America, to all of us, was the lack of any policy guidance, any policy decision, any direction from the president and his top national security advisers on how to contain ISIS."

McConnell said that talks were ongoing in the Senate about what should be in the resolution it passes, but Schumer cautioned him that it would be more important to move fast than to "quibble" over a phrase or two.

It would be better, he said, for Republicans in the Senate to stand up to Trump, as they did in the House.

"Time is of the essence. To say I would like to add this word or add this sentence, as Kurds are being slaughtered, as ISIS terrorists are escaping -- no, no, no," Schumer said.

"We all know there is only one person who can reverse this, and that is the president. And the greatest ability to make him reverse is an overwhelming message from the Republican side, House and the Senate, that this is wrong," he said.

In addition, the normally Trump-supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), were expected to roll out a stiffer sanctions package against Turkey that would deny Turkish leaders visas to the United States and slap tariffs on the Turkish energy industry, among other penalties.