Senate to debate and vote on Syria policy next week

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Friday the Senate will vote as early as next week on a broad Middle East policy bill, one that will allow senators to express their misgivings about President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to bring US troops home from Syria.

The bill doesn’t specifically counter the withdrawal — a surprise move that alarmed foreign policy hawks like Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina but also more mainstream rank-and-file members from each party — but does include new sanctions against the Syrian government that will open the door to debate about the sudden change in US policy and its impact.

Critics of the decision believe it will leave a void in war-torn Syria that could be filled by Russia and Iran.

Speaking on the floor, McConnell said he expects the Senate debate could be “contentious” and that he hopes the White House and Congress will be “deliberate and sober” as they consider US options in Syria.

“There are differing views about the role of the US military with respect to the threats emanating from Syria,” McConnell said. “There is no question that we continue to face serious challenges from Al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, as well as from Iran, Russia, and the Assad regime itself. And I anticipate this body will debate US military strategy towards Syria in coming weeks as it conducts oversight over the administration’s apparently ongoing review of its policies.”

“There are no easy solutions in Syria. I hope the administration and the Congress will be deliberate and sober as we consider the risks of various approaches to the end-game of the fight against the physical caliphate of ISIS. After all, American lives, critical national security interests, and the future of a turbulent yet critical region are at stake. That debate is forthcoming. I imagine it could be contentious,” he added.

Debate on the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East bill will take place next week, with a key procedural vote to break a filibuster scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. McConnell said a final vote could happen as before the end of the week.

The measure combines four bills with bipartisan backing that moved through Congress last year: Two that are aimed at strengthening US ties with Israel and Jordan, two of Syria’s neighbors, a third is aimed at crippling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The fourth bill provides for additional sanctions at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

It is sponsored by McConnell, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Sen, James Risch, an Idaho Republican and the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“This package of legislation is an important step toward finishing the work of the last Congress. Israel and Jordan have been steadfast allies of the United States that deserve this support,” Risch said in a statement Thursday, when the bill was introduced on the first day of the new Congress. “Also, it is vital to confront Syrian government atrocities and end discrimination against Israel. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reviewed these bills last Congress and they had near unanimous support. It is time to move them forward.”