WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved what could become a forceful Congressional break with President Trump’s foreign policy.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. previously proposed an amendment objecting to Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan to the Senate’s first bill of the year, a law set to strengthen U.S. presence in the Middle East. The Senate voted to move forward with the amendment, ending debate and advancing towards a vote.
The final vote count was 68 in favor, and 23 against. Sixty votes were required for cloture, allowing the bill to move to a vote next week.
While the amendment acknowledges the progress made in the fight against al Qaeda and ISIS, it also highlights the serious threat the terrorist groups in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose to the United States.
“The Senate… calls upon the administration to certify that conditions have been met for the enduring defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS before initiating any significant withdrawal of United States forces from Syria or Afghanistan,” the amendment states.
Trump announced on December 19 his intentions to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, but the move has been slow-going. He extended the timeline from 30 days to four months.
On Monday, Trump’s representative for Afghanistan reconciliation reported he had reached a framework for peace talks with the Taliban. In exchange for a withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, the Taliban promised not to allow any organization to carry out an international terrorist attack from Afghanistan.
The bipartisan bill includes passages reauthorizing an agreement the U.S. struck with Jordan in 2015, approving sanctions against the Syrian regime unless several conditions are met. It also extends an existing loan guarantee program with Israel through 2023, which includes some anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) sentiments. The bill was approved to proceed on Tuesday.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the sponsor of the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, said he shares the president’s desire to remove troops from the region, but does not want to do so at the sake of security.
“The problem is that if you (withdraw) in the wrong way you increase dramatically the likelihood of a future conflict,” he said.
Rubio said he worried about terrorist groups finding a safe haven inside Syria if American troops were to withdraw from the region. Both Rubio and other senators also warned that Kurdish fighters working in Syria would be left alone if U.S. troops were to withdraw.
Democrats aligned with the president on Thursday’s vote, with Democratic 2020 candidates such as Sen. Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Harris of California all voting against.
Some Democratic senators who voted against stopping discussion on the amendment cited the action as agreeing to endless war.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who voted in favor, said the McConnell amendment in no way constitutes a mission in the Middle East for an undefined amount of time.
Instead it shows, he said, that the “U.S. will not abandon our partners and allies.”