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GOP-Led Senate Rebukes President Trump Over Syria Policy


Republicans in Congress are increasingly willing to say out loud that they differ with the president, at least when it comes to foreign policy. The latest example came yesterday when most Republicans supported a measure rebuking the idea of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. That sends a message even though the vote has no force of law. NPR's Tim Mak reports.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Congressional Republicans rarely break with President Trump, but the GOP-controlled Senate voted to go on the record pushing back on Trump's foreign policy, specifically on Syria.


UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: On this vote, the yeas are 68. The nays are 23...

MAK: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's measure calls upon the administration to certify the enduring defeat of al-Qaida and ISIS before U.S. forces can be pulled. On Thursday afternoon, 43 out of 53 Senate Republicans voted to rebuke the president. The measure is attached to a broader Mideast-policy bill that the Senate is still debating. Here's McConnell making the case.


MITCH MCCONNELL: ISIS and al-Qaida have yet to be defeated, and American national security interests require continued commitment to our mission.

MAK: The president had unexpectedly tweeted in December that the United States was withdrawing its approximately 2,000 troops from Syria. Here's Trump in a video message.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly.

MAK: That sudden declaration of a withdrawal from Syria led Trump administration officials to raise concerns that ISIS had not yet been defeated and that the withdrawal would leave American allies in the lurch. Here's former Republican senator Daniel Coats, now the Director of National Intelligence, in testimony before Congress this week.


DANIEL COATS: ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.

MAK: Republican senators have been put in the uncomfortable position of chiding the president while simultaneously appearing to support him. It's a reflection of both Trump's unorthodox beliefs and his enduring popularity with the Republican base they both share. GOP Senator James Risch, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tried to downplay the message the Senate was sending. Asked by NPR whether the measures should be taken as a rebuke of the president, here's what Risch said.


JAMES RISCH: No, it shouldn't because it's not.

MAK: OK. And here's Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sidestepping whether it was about splitting with Trump.


JIM INHOFE: This is a way of saying that we in the Senate - or in the Congress agree that it should be and all of the military agrees and the president agrees. So it's another way of emphasizing something that people don't understand.

MAK: The president can do a lot of things in foreign policy unilaterally. But ultimately, on major changes relating to funding and policy, he needs to maintain a coalition of support in Congress. The Senate vote indicates that he doesn't have their support on a quick withdrawal from Syria. Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.