Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who introduced a resolution last week calling on Trump to end the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, also thanked the administration for the Baghdadi operation.
“A victory like this is only possible because of the expertise, skill, and courage of those who work to keep the United States safe,” McConnell said in a statement. “I am grateful for the intelligence professionals who laid the groundwork for this raid, for the brave American servicemembers who risked everything to carry it out, and to President Trump and his team for their leadership.”
But Republicans, including Graham and McConnell, warned that the battle against terrorism was not over. McConnell noted that ISIS and Al Qaeda remained resilient terrorist organizations, and he urged the continuation of counterterrorism efforts in the region.
The news of Baghdadi’s death also drew some attention away from the House’s impeachment inquiry, after a week that included damning testimony about the president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.
The death of Baghdadi, who detonated a suicide vest after he was cornered in a tunnel, comes as Congress has struggled to coalesce around a strategy for responding to Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria. That move led to a Turkish incursion in the country and the emergence of Russian forces in an area once controlled by U.S.-allied Kurds.
Graham, who warned that Trump’s decision to withdraw troops could be the greatest mistake of his presidency, has introduced a sanctions package against Turkey with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). The South Carolina Republican said last week that he would continue to push for co-sponsors, but added that recent events allowed for “breathing space.” The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), also have their own sanctions proposal. But McConnell has also urged caution against sanctioning a NATO ally.
“I commend President Trump on his leadership and resolve in the fight against terror,” Risch said in a statement on Sunday. “Baghdadi’s removal from the battlefield represents another significant milestone in the fight against ISIS. We must continue to apply pressure until the Islamic State is incapable of reconstituting.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have called on Senate Republicans to pass a House resolution condemning Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, a measure that received significant support from House Republicans. McConnell has argued that his resolution is stronger.
A group of Republican senators took a more positive tone on Thursday about the administration’s Syria policy, following a lunch at the White House with the president.
“We were actually pretty encouraged by what progress would be made in Syria and what the game plan is,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), after meeting with Trump.
While Baghdadi’s death received bipartisan praise, Democrats renewed their criticism of the troop withdrawal. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also slammed the administration for neglecting to inform congressional leaders about the raid.
“The death of al-Baghdadi is significant, but the death of this ISIS leader does not mean the death of ISIS,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The House must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top Congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the Administration’s overall strategy in the region.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) further warned that “there are still potentially hundreds of ISIS prisoners and sympathizers who have escaped in recent weeks” and that “we still need a plan for how we will deal with the escaped prisoners and ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
The news of Baghdadi’s death gave additional ammunition to Trump’s defenders against the House’s impeachment inquiry, after explosive testimony last week from the administration’s top diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, and the appearance of a string of officials who defied a White House directive not to cooperate with the investigation. While this week’s Sunday news shows were expected to focus on impeachment, Baghdadi’s death instead dominated.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the panel’s chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), for focusing on impeachment instead of Syria. He said he couldn’t recall the last time the committee had a briefing on Syria, but added that the panel would receive one on Monday.
“Unfortunately, the Intelligence Committee that I serve on hasn’t been spending a whole lot of time on these issues. We’ve been caught up in Adam Schiff’s secret impeachment inquiry,” Ratcliffe said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” “All I can remember is one ambassador after another that I’ve never heard of before.”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said on the same program that Baghdadi’s death demonstrated that Trump “kept his eye on the ball” despite being “attacked and harassed by the House impeachment probe.” He further criticized Democrats for not offering sufficient praise of the Trump administration for Baghdadi’s death.
“To see the silence from them, maybe they are upset that maybe their impeachment headlines are knocked off the front page for a morning,” Collins said.