Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, listens during a news conference following a Senate Republicans policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg)

GOP's Syria Measure Rebukes Trump Over Plans to Withdraw Troops

(Bloomberg) -- The Republican-led Senate adopted an amendment by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging President Donald Trump not to exit military conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, an unusual rebuke of the president by GOP lawmakers.

Senators added the majority leader’s amendment to a national security measure Monday that the chamber also advanced, 72-24, toward a final vote. McConnell, who stood by Trump during the 35-day partial government shutdown and is usually reluctant to criticize the president, pursued the measure after Trump declared victory against Islamic State and began peace negotiations in Afghanistan.

McConnell has repeatedly warned that Islamic State and al-Qaeda have not been defeated, and his amendment calls for the U.S. to avoid any "precipitous withdrawal" from those countries.

Trump took aim at McConnell’s view during a CBS interview Sunday, arguing that a major part of his appeal to voters was his willingness to buck the hawkish positions of many Republican Party members.

"Precipitously?" Trump said. "We’ve been there for 19 years. I want to fight. I want to win, and we want to bring our great troops back home."

"We’ve been there close to 19 years. And it’s time," the president said. "This war, what we’re doing, has got to stop at some point."

Trump announced in December that he would withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, while declaring victory over Islamic State in the country. A number of lawmakers, including Republicans, opposed the decision. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned shortly after the announcement, followed soon after by Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the global coalition fighting Islamic State.

A report by the inspectors general of the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, issued Monday, said Islamic State "remains a potent force of battle-hardened and well-disciplined fighters that ‘could likely resurge in Syria’ absent continued counterterrorism pressure."

The Senate attached McConnell’s amendment to a package of defense bills, S. 1, that would direct the Trump administration to impose sanctions on entities that do business with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, such as selling petroleum products or aircraft parts. It also would let state and local governments refuse to do business with anyone who boycotts Israel. McConnell said the bill will get a final Senate vote later this week.

The Senate also adopted, by voice vote, an amendment proposed by New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez stating that McConnell’s amendment "shall not be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of military force."

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