WASHINGTON — Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham intend to press next week for the passage of a bipartisan bill that would impose severe sanctions on Turkey for its attack on Kurdish forces in Syria that have reportedly killed dozens and displaced tens of thousands.
Van Hollen, a Democrat, said that he and Graham, a Republican, will introduce the sanctions legislation next week when Congress returns from a two-week break. The pair are hoping for an “immediate vote to send a clear message to Turkey,” Van Hollen said in a tweet.
The proposed sanctions would restrict U.S. visas for Turkish leaders, slash humanitarian aid and prohibit U.S. military support for Turkey, according to Van Hollen.
The sanctions bill follows President Donald Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops out of Turkey’s way to allow that nation to proceed with the attack. It’s a move that reportedly defied the recommendations of top Pentagon and State Department officials and has outraged members of Congress in both parties.
“We have no soldiers in the area. We’re getting out of the endless wars. We have to do it,” Trump said in a press conference on Wednesday. When asked how he would respond to potential attempts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to obliterate the Kurds, Trump said: “I will wipe out (Erdogan’s) economy if that happens.”
But Van Hollen emphasized how seriously he viewed Trump’s decision to step out of the region was in a statement on Wednesday: “This unlawful and unwarranted attack against an American friend and partner threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of civilians, many of whom have already fled from their homes elsewhere in Syria to find safety in this region.”
According to The International Rescue Committee, 64,000 people fled Syria in anticipation of, and after, the attacks began. The New York Times reported that at least 23 Kurdish fighters have been killed, although Turkey’s defense ministry said that number could be in the hundreds.
In an unusual move for a steadfast supporter of Trump, Graham rebuked the administration’s decision.
“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS,” he tweeted.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, joined the ranks of Republican lawmakers who spoke out against the president’s decision.
“News from Syria is sickening…Impossible to understand why @realDonaldTrump is leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS,” she tweeted.
In the coming days, Cheney said she plans to introduce a companion House bill which has gained support from nearly 30 Republican House members.
Oddly, Trump appeared to support the sanctions bill that challenged his leniency towards Turkey.
He tweeted Thursday: “I say hit Turkey very hard financially & with sanctions if they don’t play by the rules! I am watching closely.”
On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump had signed an executive order authorizing sanctions on Turkey, although he was vague about what conditions would trigger administration action.
“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them,” Mnuchin told reporters. “But we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to.”
Despite widespread disapproval in Congress, some lawmakers have supported the president’s withdrawal of U.S. military operations from northern Syria.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, tweeted: “President Trump should be applauded for putting America first! I support bringing our troops home from endless wars in the Middle East!”
But several Maryland lawmakers attacked Trump’s Turkey policy and weighed in on the proposed sanctions bill.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, called Trump’s Turkey decision “national security malpractice at its worst, and the lives lost will be on the President’s watch.”
“The House ought to act to address this crisis, and I hope all members – Democrats and Republicans alike…can work together in the days ahead to respond,” Hoyer said in a statement.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said he looks forward to reading the legislation when it is available, and condemned the president’s actions in a statement to Capital News Service: “Abandoning our commitment to our Kurdish allies not only diminishes America’s credibility but it opens up a window for an ISIS resurgence.”
Rep. David Trone, D-Potomac, said: “President Trump’s latest terrible foreign policy decision abandons a U.S. ally in a critical region while letting a NATO member run roughshod over the Kurdish population in northern Syria. There should be strong consequences for Turkey’s actions and this (sanctions) bill sends the right message.”