By Lindsay Wise
A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would impose harsh sanctions on Turkey on Thursday, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to say whether he will bring the measure to the floor for a vote.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) includes language declaring that it is the "sense of Congress" that President Trump's decision to pull back U.S. troops from the Syrian-Turkish border area "has grave consequences" for national security and for America's allies.
It also calls on the president to withdraw his invitation to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit the White House next month and to "seek unity" with European and other key partners to condemn Turkey's offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria.
"Congress is going to speak with a very firm, singular voice that we will impose sanctions, and the strongest measures possible against this Turkish outrage," Mr. Graham said at a news conference Thursday, flanked by Democratic Sens. Van Hollen, Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), as well as Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.)
Mr. Graham urged Mr. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to allow the Senate to vote on a resolution, passed by the U.S. House on Wednesday 354-60, urging the president to change course in Syria.
"I believe that same resolution if brought to the floor of the United States Senate would get over 80 votes," Mr. Graham said.
Mr. Schumer tried to pass the House-approved resolution on the Senate floor through unanimous consent Thursday, but Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), blocked it.
"I talked to my friend from Kentucky, he said the Kurds are better off with the Syrians. Well, the Kurds sure don't think so," Mr. Schumer said in a statement. "They'd rather be back to the status quo" Mr. Schumer blamed the president for the situation.
Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Mr. Graham, said the sponsors of the bipartisan sanctions bill introduced Thursday plan to push ahead for passage regardless of news of a possible cease-fire in the region.
Mr. Graham said later Thursday that he spoke with President Trump about the apparent suspension of operations by Turkey in Syria, announced by Vice President Mike Pence shortly after the senators' bill was introduced.
"Sounds like we may have made real progress regarding a cease-fire and hopefully sustainable solutions to prevent the reemergence of ISIS, the abandonment of our ally, the Kurds, and other strategic interests of the United States, like the containment of Iran," Mr. Graham said.
He added that he stands ready to work with Mr. Trump to build on the deal.
The legislation would apply stiff sanctions to President Erdogan and other senior officials, Turkish banks, military transactions, and Turkish energy sector activities. It also would bar U.S. military assistance to Turkey, and prevent Mr. Erdogan and other Turkish leaders from visiting the U.S.
Also on Thursday, Sen. Jim Risch (R., Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), the panel's top Democrat, said they plan to introduce their own legislation that would require the Trump administration to "produce a strategy" to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Their bill also would authorize humanitarian assistance for Syrian civilians, restrict the sale of weapons to Turkey, and impose new sanctions against Turkey and Russia. Similar legislation has already been introduced in the Democratic-controlled House.
"Turkey's incursion has worsened an already devastating humanitarian situation in Syria, and I fear this will exacerbate the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds for years to come." Mr. Risch said in a statement.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, introduced the Syrian Allies Protection Act, a bill that would make U.S. visas available to Syrian Kurds who worked with U.S. military forces in Syria.
"America has always stood by her allies. It's shameful that as a result of President Trump's reckless actions in Syria, the lives of our Kurdish allies are now in danger," said Mr. Warner. "Our friends should not pay the price for the President's irresponsible decision."
Write to Lindsay Wise at email@example.com