WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump defended a plan to move U.S. troops out of Northern Syria despite a backlash Monday from GOP lawmakers who say the move would leave Kurdish allies in the region in grave danger from a Turkish invasion.
Trump's remarks – his first public comments on a decision announced late on Sunday – followed a storm of criticism from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who described the move to withdraw from the region as a betrayal of allies who fought alongside U.S. forces against ISIS.
"I'm not siding with anybody," Trump told reporters in the Roosevelt Room after signing a trade agreement with Japan. "It's time to come back home."
Trump reiterated a threat to "hit' Turkey's economy if the country does "anything outside of what we would think is humane." He said he "consulted with everybody" on the decision, despite internal disagreement within the administration about the path forward in Syria.
"We're 7,000 miles away," Trump said. "I campaigned on the fact that I was going to bring our soldiers home."
The White House announced late Sunday that "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation." Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers the Kurdish forces terrorists allied with insurgents inside his country.
The announcement comes as Trump is fending off an impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats who believe the president abused his power by asking Ukraine to look into political rival Joe Biden during a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
High-profile Republicans didn't take long to slam the decision.
"A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime," McConnell warned.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., phoned in to Fox & Friends – a program Trump regularly watches – to say that the decision is "short-sighted" and "irresponsible."
"I like President Trump," Graham said. "I've tried to help him. This to me is just unnerving to its core."