WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The president’s decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria is causing new friction in the North Carolina Senate race.
Cal Cunningham, a Democratic candidate in next year’s election, criticized comments made by the incumbent, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, accusing him of putting "partisan political interest ahead of the national interest."
“We’ve got another example of our senator in Thom Tillis caving into pressure from the White House about a very important issue of national security,” Cunningham said.
Turkey launched an offensive earlier this week, targeting the Kurds - a U.S. ally that was key in combatting ISIS. The attack followed the president’s announcement about withdrawing troops from the region.
On Wednesday, Tillis told reporters he is “absolutely concerned” about the situation there, but said the president may be working with more information than he has access to.
“At this point, I’m giving the president the benefit of the doubt,” Tillis said. “We’ll go back next week - I’m sure we’ll have a classified briefing, and then I’ll have better access to the facts that he may have used to make that decision.”
Tillis is embracing the president as part of his re-election campaign. The president featured prominently in his first ad.
Tillis's "benefit of the doubt" comment stands in contrast to what many in Congress are saying about Syria. The troop withdrawal has faced widespread criticism from both sides of the aisle, including from some of the president’s closest allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC.
The president has defended his decision as part of an effort to get the U.S. out of what he calls “endless wars.”
Cunningham, an army veteran, described the U.S. as walking away from an ally on the battlefield. He said the withdrawal threatens national security.
“Our men and women in uniform are prepared and trained everyday to make sure that threats don’t come here. And if we let ISIS up off the mat, we’re at greater risk,” he said.
Last December, Tillis issued a statement warning about the potential impact of leaving Syria too soon, writing in part, "We cannot afford to repeat the mistake of the Obama Administration’s decision to prematurely withdraw from Iraq, which led to the rise of ISIS."
The Tillis campaign fired back at Cunningham's criticism Friday, saying "Senator Tillis forms the important decisions he makes on having all of the facts rather than rushing to judgement about President Trump."
“No Senator has been tougher when it comes to holding the Erdogan regime in Turkey accountable than Senator Tillis,” said campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo, noting the senator could end up pushing for sanctions against the country.
In the past, Tillis has been critical of Turkey, especially surrounding the imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson.
The Impeachment Inquiry
In an interview with Spectrum News, Cunningham also weighed in on the ongoing impeachment fight in Washington.
Asked if it was okay for the president to ask foreign countries to investigate a political rival, he said, “No, it’s not.”
“The president of the United States standing on the white house lawn, calling on foreign governments to be involved in our politics is at the heart of and evidence of an abuse of power,” he said. “Congress has a really key role to play in making sure that the President is held accountable. I want to see the facts come out, I want to see us pursue those facts.”
Tillis, for his part, has criticized the House-launched impeachment inquiry.
“I’ve seen the transcript, I’ve seen the complaint,” he said Wednesday. “If that alone is all they’re using to drive all the resources in the house, then I think its a waste.”