House votes down effort to pull troops from Syria

Gaetz ‘America First’ measure drew opposition from both parties

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tried to get the House to vote to require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tried to get the House to vote to require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 8, 2023 at 6:01pm

The House rejected an effort Wednesday to effectively force President Joe Biden to remove roughly 900 U.S. troops from Syria.

The vote split along ideological lines about U.S. military policy and engagement, rather than the typical partisan divide. But even many critics of the specific concurrent resolution on the floor said it was time for a broader review of the 2001 authorization for use of military force enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that has been used as a justification for the engagement in Syrian territory.

The concurrent resolution, introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., pursuant to the expedited procedures in the War Powers Act, would direct Biden to remove U.S. forces from Syria within 180 days. It was not adopted, 103-321.

“If Joe Biden wants to keep us in Syria’s war, then he must explain to the American people why, what the goal is, and what winning looks like,” Gaetz said in a statement ahead of the vote. “America First means actually putting the people of our country first — not the interests of the Military Industrial Complex.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat representing northern Virginia, said she was “proud to see progress” on rolling back two use of force authorizations with respect to Iraq, from both the 1991 Gulf War and the 2002 authorization ahead of the invasion directed by President George W. Bush.

“However, that does not mean that we should abandon ongoing operations that keep the United States safe, that are authorized under the 2001 AUMF,” Spanberger said. “We should not encourage a resurgence of ISIS. We should not abandon our work with the Kurdish fighters on the front lines.”

The House vote related to the Syria operations came hours after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced, 13-8, a bill led by Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs referenced by Spanberger.

Roughly 900 U.S. troops, many of them special forces, remain in northeast Syria. Through them, the United States is able to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish, Arab and other ethnic militias and rebel groups, in keeping the Islamic State’s lingering presence in the region in check. 

The SDF oversees a refugee camp in the region, where tens of thousands of people, many of them related to ISIS fighters, reside. Also there are facilities run by the SDF where ISIS fighters are held prisoner. Should U.S. support for the SDF erode, those militants would likely escape.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., was among the lawmakers speaking on the floor against withdrawing the troops. He said that ISIS and other terrorist forces still have broader ambitions beyond the current Syrian civil war.

“Either we fight and defeat them in Syria, or we’ll fight them in the streets of our nation,” Zinke said.

Florida GOP Rep. Anna Paulina Luna criticized the arguments made by Zinke and colleagues sharing his perspective.

“I just want to start out by saying ISIS has been destroyed. A few hundred troops will not stop the next terrorist.com, and that’s never going to end.”

Luna also pointed to the difficulty controlling the U.S. border with Mexico and arguing “terrorists are literally walking in.”

Daniel Hillburn and Mark Satter contributed to this report.