Accusing him of ‘meltdown’, top Democrats walk out of Syria meet with Trump
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Trump blames 'Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown!'

Accusing him of ‘meltdown’, top Democrats walk out of Syria meet with Trump

Pelosi says president ‘shaken up’ after House votes 354-60 to condemn US troop withdrawal from Syria; Trump reportedly calls her a ‘third-rate politician’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, followed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., right, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., arrive to speak with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, followed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., right, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., arrive to speak with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats walked out of a meeting at the White House on Wednesday, accusing US President Donald Trump of having a “meltdown,” calling her a “third-rate politician” and having no plan to deal with a potentially revived Islamic State group.

Earlier, Trump washed his hands of Syria, declaring that the US has no stake in defending the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as America’s partners against IS extremists.

Condemnation of Trump’s stance on Turkey, Syria and the Kurds was quick and severe during the day, not only from Democrats but from Republicans who have been staunch supporters on virtually all issues.

The House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the US troop withdrawal. Many lawmakers expressed worry that it may lead to revival of IS as well as Russian presence and influence in the area — in addition to the slaughter of many Kurds.

At the White House, Trump said the US has no business in the region — and not to worry about the Kurdish fighters.

US President Donald Trump answers questions during a joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella (not pictured) at the White House in Washington, DC, on October 16, 2019. (Olivier Douliery / AFP)

“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”

After the House condemnation vote, the congressional leaders of both parties went to the White house for a briefing, which grew contentious, with Trump and Pelosi trading jabs. The Democrats said they walked out when the meeting devolved into an insult-fest.

“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown,” Pelosi told reporters, saying Trump appeared visibly “shaken up” over the House vote.

“We couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it,” she said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump for not having an adequate plan to deal with IS fighters who have been held by the Kurds. He said the meeting “was not a dialogue, this was sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts.”

Trump later tweeted a picture from the meeting of Pelosi appearing to lecture him, titles “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!”

Republicans also pushed back, saying it was Pelosi who’d been the problem.

“She storms out of another meeting, trying to make it unproductive,” said House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham called Pelosi’s action “baffling but not surprising.” She said the speaker “had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues.”

Trump himself has stalked out of his White House meetings with congressional leaders — in May, saying he would no longer work with Democrats unless they dropped all Russia investigations, and last January during the partial government shutdown.

In the meeting Trump also described former Defense Secretary James Mattis as “the world’s most overrated general,” according to a Democrat familiar with the meeting who offered a readout of the contentious meeting on condition of anonymity.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, listens to President Donald Trump speak during a cabinet meeting at the White House on January 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump, according to the person, was presented at one point with a quote from Mattis warning of an Islamic State group resurgence if the US does not continue to apply pressure. But Trump responded with the insult, criticizing Mattis for not being “tough enough.”

Trump also said during the meeting that 100 Islamic State prisoners had escaped following the US withdrawal from the region, but insisted they were the “least dangerous” ones.

Asked whether that was true, current Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he didn’t know.

In public appearances Wednesday, Trump said he was fulfilling a campaign promise to bring US troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden US withdrawal from Syria betrays the Kurdish fighters, stains US credibility around the world and opens an important region to Russia, which is moving in.

Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters fire a heavy machine-gun towards Kurdish fighters, in Syria’s northern region of Manbij, October 14, 2019. (AP Photo)

“We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them work it out,” Trump said. “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”

Trump said he was sending Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to urge the Turks to halt their weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria. But his remarks, first to reporters in the Oval Office and later at a news conference with his Italian counterpart, suggested he sees little at stake for America.

“Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

“Let them fight their own wars.”

More than once, Trump suggested the United States has little concern in the Middle East because it is geographically distant — a notion shared by some prior to Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida militants used Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the U.S. That attack set off a series of armed conflicts, including in Iraq, that Trump considers a waste of American lives and treasure.

But Republicans, too, made their concerns clear.

The current withdrawal is the worst decision of Trump’s presidency, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who meets often with the president and is one of his strongest and most important supporters in Congress.

In this photo from May 21, 2019, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina speaks to reporters after closed-door briefing on Iran, in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

“To those who think the Mideast doesn’t matter to America, remember 9/11 — we had that same attitude on 9/10 2001.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he strongly disagreed with Trump and had told the president so. But he asked, “What tools do we have” to back up that disagreement?

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters he didn’t know what could be done to undo the harm he felt was resulting.

“There are some mistakes that are not easy to reverse. And there are some that are irreversible,” said Rubio, who was a Trump rival for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the area. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) -deep “safe zone” in Syria.

Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the US and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

Trump mischaracterized the progress made thus far by the US military in carrying out his instructions to withdraw all 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria. He referred to the approximately two dozen soldiers who evacuated from Turkey’s initial attack zone last week, but cast that as meaning the US has “largely” completed its pullout.

A US official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the 1,000 said that they are consolidating onto two main bases but have not yet begun flying out of Syria in significant numbers. Military equipment is being gathered and flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.

Trump downplayed the crisis that followed his decision to pull out of Syria, which critics say amounted to giving Turkey a green light to invade against the Kurdish fighters.

“It’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe,” Trump said, adding that he’s more than willing to let adversaries fight it out in that area of the Middle East.

In the meantime, he said, “Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be.”

An American armored vehicle patrols with Turkish forces, as they conduct a joint ground patrol in the so-called ‘safe zone’ on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, in Rahaf village, near the town of Tal Abyad, northeastern Syria, September 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)

Trump did impose new sanctions on Turkey this week in an attempt to force Erdogan to end his assault. But he said Wednesday, “It’s time for us to come home.”

Even as Trump defended his removal of US troops from northeastern Syria, he praised his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.

Trump said the US is sending missiles and “great power” to the Saudis, and “they’re paying for that.”

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