President Donald Trump listens as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks in the East Room of the White House during an event about Trump's judicial appointments, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Washington.

President Donald Trump listens as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks in the East Room of the White House during an event about Trump's judicial appointments, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Washington. Patrick Semansky/AP

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McConnell Asked White House For Sanctions Position, Dem Senator Says

The Senate majority leader is weighing the myriad sanctions proposals on the Hill, Sen. Van Hollen said at the Defense One Outlook 2020 conference. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has asked the White House to lay out its position on placing sanctions on Turkey, according to the Democratic co-sponsor of one of the myriad of proposals on the Hill. 

“I think [McConnell] would acknowledge and has acknowledged what Turkey has done is outrageous, but until he gets some signal from the administration as to whether or not they support any of these sanctions bills, he’s been unwilling to move forward,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said at the Defense One Outlook 2020 conference. 

“We’re going to keep pushing because we think it’s important,” Van Hollen said, but “right now we’ve got Mitch McConnell essentially protecting the president.”

McConnell has urged caution about punishing Ankara for sending troops into Syria last month, warning that Turkey is a NATO ally, and that penalizing the Turkish economy could backfire by turning public opinion away from the United States. 

“I’ve spoken at length about my concerns on Turkey’s incursion and my opposition to withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria, but I believe we need to be guided by our strategic interests, not emotions, as we seek to contain the damage of Turkey’s incursion, peel Ankara away from Moscow and urge better behavior abroad by Erdogan’s government,” McConnell said in a floor speech last week. 

“I hope we will carefully examine whether a broad mandatory sanctions bill is really the best solution.”

But he faces at least three sanctions measures between the House and Senate, including one from Van Hollen and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and one passed by 403-16 by the House. Van Hollen and Graham have both said they would support the House measure if the Senate were to take it up. 

Lawmakers from both parties have urged penalties on Turkey for its attacks on U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Northeastern Syria. The Trump administration briefly imposed a slate of sanctions on Ankara immediately following the incursion, but relieved them after Turkey agreed to a ceasefire in the area it had already invaded. The president has been under bipartisan fire for his handling of the incident. 

“Senator McConnell knows that if he puts this up on the Senate floor, he’ll have a similar veto-proof majority [as the House legislation],” Van Hollen said. “This is why he’s trying to figure out what the administration position is.”

“Unfortunately from my perspective, his goal is more protecting the president from having to sign or veto a bill they may not want than standing up for protecting our credibility around the world.”