The Senate voted 68-23 on Thursday for a resolution that rebuked President Trump’s decision to try to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan. The vast majority of Republicans voted for it, with 43 voting yes, three voting no, and seven not voting.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) held a vote on his own amendment, which begins fairly boilerplate and anodyne in expressing “the sense of the Senate that the United States faces continuing threats from terrorist groups operating in Syria and Afghanistan.”
The second half of the amendment is where the daylight exists between Congress and the White House, noting: “the precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from either country could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security.”
Though it does not impact policy or bind the administration in any real sense, it will be added to the larger foreign policy bill sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), which could come before Trump to sign or veto.
The resolution itself did not name the White House or Trump directly, but the meaning was a clear statement that the Republican-controlled Senate opposes Trump’s unconventional handling of Syria and Afghanistan foreign policy.
Trump announced the plan to immediately withdraw U.S. forces from Syria late last year. He also directed the Pentagon to withdraw about half of American troops from Afghanistan on December 21. He said at the time that the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) had been defeated, despite differing reports from the United Nations as well as his own advisers.
Since his initial announcement, the timeframe for troop withdrawals has been very blurry, in part due to people like National Security Adviser John Bolton dialing back Trump’s proclamations.
Retired General James Mattis resigned as Trump’s defense secretary in part due to his opposition to Trump’s stance on U.S. military presence in Syria and Afghanistan. Retired General John Kelly also left his post as chief of staff after similar disagreements with Trump.
Nineteen other Republican senators cosponsored the bill, from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) voted against the bill, saying on Twitter that McConnell’s “proposal puts us on a path to endless presence of American troops, leaving them in harm’s way.”
But I have deep concerns about Trump’s knee-jerk, politically-motivated plan. If done too quickly or with political rather than strategic goals in mind, withdrawing from the Middle East could pose a significant threat to U.S. national security.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) January 31, 2019
He still made clear that he opposed the way in which Trump planned to exit Syria and Afghanistan.
This is not the first time the Senate has parted from the White House in foreign policy. In December, the Senate passed resolutions to rebuke the Trump administration on its stance defending the Saudi regime’s actions related to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.