U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said Wednesday he’s giving President Donald Trump “the benefit of the doubt” on his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria, breaking with fellow Republicans who’ve criticized the decision.
Tillis’s comments came hours after Turkey launched strikes against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.
The president announced his decision to withdraw troops in a tweet on Sunday. Since then, many Republican senators — including Trump allies such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — have condemned it.
Graham has called it “a disaster in the making.”
Tillis said while he’s concerned about the situation, “The president may be working on more information than I have.
“At this point I’m giving the president the benefit of the doubt,” he told reporters after a Union County farm event with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
North Carolina’s other senator, Republican Richard Burr, said in a statement, “We should never abandon those who have fought beside us.” He called on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syria.
Tillis was also asked if he believes it was all right for Trump to ask foreign governments for assistance investigating a political opponent. The House has begun an impeachment inquiry to see whether the president broke the law in asking Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, a former board member of a Ukrainian gas company.
“I am going to leave it to the president,” Tillis said, calling the House inquiry “a waste.”
Last year Tillis was among lawmakers who pushed for the U.S. to review the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey over its imprisonment of N.C. pastor Matthew Brunson’s imprisonment. Congress approved the measure as part of the defense appropriations bill.
In December Tillis warned about an early withdrawal.
“We need to make sure the withdrawal of America’s presence from Syria is done the right way, at the right time,” he said in a statement. “We cannot afford to repeat the mistake of the Obama Administration’s decision to prematurely withdraw from Iraq . . . Withdrawal from Syria at the current time could lead to the resurgence of ISIS and provide a boost to Russia and Iran.”
Tillis, who faces a Republican primary in his re-election bid, has embraced the president. His first TV ad touts Trump’s endorsement as well as his support of Tillis’ bill to force sheriffs to work with federal immigration officials.
The ad uses footage of the president from a July rally in Greenville. “He’s been a warrior, really a warrior, when we needed him most,” Trump says in the ad. “Make sure he gets re-elected.”
Polls have shown Tillis in trouble with some GOP voters. When he was introduced at Trump’s Fayetteville rally last month, some in the audience booed.
Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham has criticized the pullout.
“It is promising that a bipartisan chorus of Senators has spoken out against this shortsighted decision,” he said in a statement, “and Senator Thom Tillis should join them.”
Pushing the USMCA
Tillis appeared with Perdue at an event that drew about two dozen farmers to the Circle S Ranch Turkey Farm. Both men advocated passage of the proposed United States Mexico Canada Agreement, a trade pact.
They said there’s bipartisan support for the agreement in Congress and urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s to bring it to the floor.
At the event, Jim Howie told Perdue that the president’s trade war has hurt farmers like him.
“Agriculture has taken the brunt of this,” he said, adding that government bailouts “were quite frankly not what they should have been.”
The administration has allocated $28 billion to help American farmers hurt by the trade war. Perdue defended the amount of the payments.
“It’s a significant part of agricultural income,” he said.