By a 2-to-1 margin, House Republicans on Wednesday broke with President Donald Trump and opposed his decision to pull back U.S. forces in Syria, a move that exposed Kurdish fighters to attack from Turkey.
A resolution opposing the move passed 354 to 60, with 129 Republicans siding with the unanimous Democrats and 60 opposed. It was a noteworthy rebuke of Trump from Republicans who have long been wary of crossing the president.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that the Kurds are “no angels,” but Republican lawmakers who fought alongside them in Iraq and Syria called them reliable and effective U.S. allies.
“Let me be clear on the Kurds: Aside from Israel, they’re our best ally in the Middle East,” said Rep. Michael Waltz, a former Green Beret who worked with Kurds in Syria.
“They have been fighting shoulder to shoulder — not in a support role, an actual fighting role — with us for decades. I think we need to recognize that, and I think the American people need to appreciate that,” the Florida Republican said.
Rep. Don Bacon, who fought alongside Kurdish allies as part of the invasion of Iraq in the early-2000s, told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that they are “the one group you could have behind you and not worry about your back.”
The Nebraska Republican has vociferously advocated for the administration to take active measures to stop Turkey’s advance in northern Syria, where videos have emerged of Kurds being slaughtered by Turkish-led soldiers.
“They were loyal, they were good,” Bacon said of the Kurds he fought with in Iraq. “They were our best folks on the ground of the indigenous folks out there. I know a lot of folks are hurt and angered that we didn’t stay loyal to the Kurds, who have been by our side for really the last 16 years.”
Bacon and Waltz were among the scores of Republicans who rebuked Trump by voting for the bipartisan resolution on Wednesday. Waltz is not facing a competitive reelection, but Bacon remains a Democratic target in 2020, although his Democratic opponents have posted lackluster fundraising numbers. Trump carried the Omaha-based district by 2 points in 2016, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Lean Republican.
The 129 Republicans who supported the resolution were a mix of lawmakers in safe Republican seats, Republicans facing competitive races in 2020, and members of GOP leadership. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy voted for the resolution, as did other top leaders including Minority Whip Steve Scalise and GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, who has been outspoken against Trump’s decision to pull back forces in Syria.
Most of the 60 Republicans who opposed the resolution are from safe Republican districts that voted for Trump in 2016. Three Republicans and one independent voted “present,” including Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who’s a Democratic target in 2020.
Just a handful of Republicans who are being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2020 opposed the resolution, opting not to condemn Trump’s decision.
Two of those GOP lawmakers, Duncan Hunter of California and Steve King of Iowa, are facing competitive primaries. Two other Democratic targets, John Carter of Texas and Brian Mast of Florida, sided with Trump. Mast is an Army veteran and Hunter served in the Marine Corps. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Hunter, King and Carter’s races as Lean Republican and Mast’s reelection as Solid Republican.