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President Trump Defends His Decision To Pull U.S. Forces From Syria


President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria received a resounding condemnation today in Congress. A bipartisan majority passed a resolution in the House of Representatives opposing Trump's policy in the region. Shortly after the vote, Trump hosted congressional leaders at the White House to discuss the situation, but the Democrats did not stay long. Speaking outside the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this.


NANCY PELOSI: I think that vote - the size of the vote - more than 2-to-1 of the Republicans voted to oppose what the president did - probably got to the president because he was shaken up by it. And that's why we couldn't continue in the meeting - because he was just not relating to the reality of it.

CORNISH: NPR's White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe joins us now to give us more details. And Ayesha, Democrats and the White House agree that this meeting didn't go well. That's about it. What do we know about what happened?

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: There has been a lot of back and forth about what happened in this meeting. Two Democratic sources told NPR's Susan Davis that the president started this meeting talking about this letter that he wrote to Turkey's President Erdogan and basically kind of bragging that he had been very tough in this letter. The president is also, according to these sources, saying that General Mattis, his former defense secretary, was the world's most overrated general and basically said that Mattis wasn't tough enough to beat ISIS and that Trump said he captured ISIS in one month.

There was - so there was a lot of this kind of back and forth. The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, disputed some of these reports, basically saying that the Democratic leadership chose to storm out and to go out in front of cameras and whine and that the president was composed and decisive in the meeting.

But all of that was kind of - before all of this happened, you had President Trump really doubling down and saying that he does not regret his decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria. Here's more of what he had to say at that press conference.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And Syria doesn't want Turkey to take its land. I can understand that. But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they're fighting over Syria's land? Are we supposed to fight a NATO member in order that Syria, who is not our friend, keeps their land? I don't think so.

CORNISH: Speaking of friends, I know the president spoke a lot about the Kurds today. What did he have to say?

RASCOE: Well, he kept saying that they're not angels, and he even said that Kurdish fighters who are members of the PKK are more of a terrorist threat than ISIS in many ways. And that's really echoing some of what Turkey's President Erdogan is saying.

CORNISH: Can we talk about this vote in the House - because it's part of a backlash to his change in policy - specifically from his own party?

RASCOE: So you had - you have Democrats and Republicans coming out against President Trump on this move to pull troops from Syria. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today thanks - thanked the Kurds for their alliance with the U.S. and said that they helped to defeat ISIS. And you have Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who's been a big defender of the president, saying that he fears that this is going to be a national security disaster. Here's more of what he had to say.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: If we do not leave some residual forces behind to partner with the Kurds, ISIS will come back. It will put our nation at risk. We will have been seen as dishonorable in the eyes of all future allies. The president's decision here, I think, is the biggest mistake of his presidency.

RASCOE: And Trump was asked about Graham's comments, and he said that Graham would just keep the U.S. involved in the Middle East for a thousand years and basically told Graham to focus on his job as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

CORNISH: We know next that Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are headed to Turkey. I know, Ayesha, you will be following this story.

Thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.