Murphy calls on Republican colleagues to use impeachment 'leverage' to change Trump's mind on Syria

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Thursday implored his Republican colleagues to press President Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to remove U.S. troops from the northern Syrian border, saying they have leverage over him given that the Republican-controlled Senate has the final say on whether Trump is removed from office.

Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the move by Trump this week.

"As we speak, Republicans are protecting the president from impeachment. They have a lot of leverage over him. They could use some of that leverage to get him to do the right thing in northeastern Syria, and I hope they will take that tack in the coming days," Murphy said Thursday at a news conference in Hartford condemning Trump's decision, as Turkey pressed its assault against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria for a second day.

Murphy outlined the "three nightmares" that he said will result from Trump's order: Countries in the Middle East will not want to partner with the U.S. because "we don't keep our promises," he said; the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS, would be strengthened; and moral and the humanitarian crisis in the region would get even worse.

As an example of the first, he referenced a recent New York Times article about Israeli officials, alarmed by Trump's order, wondering whether they can still rely on the U.S.

As for the second, for several years, the U.S. has partnered with Kurdish fighters in Syria to fight against ISIS, including watching over the more than 10,000 ISIS detainees who are in jails across northern Syria. "There's absolutely no way to guarantee the security of those prisoners as battles erupt around these detention centers," Murphy said.

The 10,000 to 20,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria "who are gaining strength would welcome these detainees to join back up with them," Murphy said.

"It is unthinkable to me that the president of the United States decided to double-cross the Kurds, promising them that we'd get their back and then as soon as the heat got turned up, abandoning them, leaving them to slaughter by the Turks," he said. "That is what's happening today."

In addition to those national security impacts, the situation also is resulting in a "moral nightmare," Murphy said, by augmenting the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Kate Dischino, vice president of emergency programs for Americares, a health-focused relief organization, said the group has been responding to the Syria crisis since 2012, providing more than $18 million in aid to its partner organizations responding within Syria and surrounding countries. The effort has included providing medicine and medical supplies to health facilities and support to mobile medical teams working in northern Syria, Dischino said at Thursday's news conference.

The most recent shipment arrived less than two weeks ago and was delivered to about 10 health facilities inside northern Syria. Many of the shipments come from the organization's distribution center in Stamford, Dischino said.

While all of this is taking place on the other side of the world, Murphy said there's "deep impact" here in Connecticut, where thousands of Kurdish Americans live.

One of them, Azad Hamoto, who's lived in the U.S. for seven years, joined Murphy at the news conference Thursday.

"As I'm speaking right now, the Turkish regime bombarding northeastern Syria again and again, this is the story of how our life goes," said Hamoto, who is originally from Afrin, Syria.

He said he spoke Thursday morning to his aunt, who fled Afrin last year.

"She doesn't know what to do, where to go," he said. "Kids, elders, they are misplaced. They don't know what to do, where to go."

Will Kneerim, director of employment and education services at New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services, or IRIS, said since 2016, the organization has resettled almost 1,200 refugees, many of them Syrian, but the Trump administration's 2017 travel ban "essentially stopped the flow of Syrian refugees."

The Syrian refugees who came to Connecticut were chosen because they were at greatest risk, Kneerim said.

"We estimate that 90 percent of Syrian refugees, many of them Kurdish, who IRIS resettled in Connecticut, had some form of PTSD, many had medical issues and could not speak a word of English. Within six months, employment-eligible Syrian refugees were working full-time jobs at a rate of over 60 percent," he said.

Congress is limited in what it can do to push back against Trump's order. While it could vote to increase the number of refugees coming into the U.S. and place sanctions on Turkey, Trump would have to approve both of those proposals.

Federal lawmakers return to Washington next week, and that's when Murphy said he'll get a better sense of what's possible legislatively, but he indicated he'd be open to introducing legislation to provide money to humanitarian programs in the region.

j.bergman@theday.com

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