Sen. Lindsey Graham signaled on Sunday that President Donald Trump’s partnering with Congress to stop Turkish aggression in Syria would be "a game changer.”
“I applaud his decision to work with Congress to stop Turkeys [sic] aggression in Syria through crippling economic sanctions,” he tweeted, saying he had spoken to the president. “This decision by President Trump will be a game changer — in all the wrong ways — for Turkey.”
Graham, usually an ardent Trump ally, has been openly critical of the White House decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria, allowing Turkey to invade the region. Foreign policy has long been Graham‘s area of expertise; he spent many years traveling to international hot spots with Arizona Sen. John McCain and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, among others.
The decision by the Trump administration has resulted in Turkish attacks against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters, who have helped in the fight against the Islamic State. Recent military actions also led the escape of many ISIS prisoners. On Sunday, amid continued condemnation from lawmakers of the administration’s policy, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the last of the U.S. troops will be pulled out of northern Syria.
The White House had threatened Friday to level new sanctions on Turkey for its military actions, but did not immediately enact any. Still, the proposed sanctions weren’t enough for Graham, who days earlier had joined Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland in releasing a bill with suggested sanctions.
Graham, who had told AXIOS that the president was “putting the nation at risk,” called the White House’s conditional sanctions “a tepid response.”
“The Turkish government needs to know Congress will take a different path — passing crippling sanctions in a bipartisan fashion,” Graham said in a Friday statement.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded to Graham’s remarks on ABC, calling the situation “complicated” while attempting to reinforce the senator’s close relationship with Trump.
“I like Lindsey Graham a lot, I respect Lindsey,” he said. “Lindsey and the president are close. This is obviously an issue that they don’t agree on, and again these are complicated issues.”
Calls for bipartisan action were heeded: Trump tweeted Sunday that he would be dealing with Graham and other lawmakers, “including Democrats,” about sanctioning Turkey.
“Treasury is ready to go, additional legislation may be sought,” Trump wrote. “There is great consensus on this. Turkey has asked that it not be done. Stay tuned!”