Harris on Syria Troop Withdrawal: ‘It Could End Badly’

U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris speaks to a constituent following a town hall meeting Sunday in Greensboro, one of two he held on the Eastern Shore. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Rep. Andrew P. Harris repeatedly brushed aside the suggestion that Congress has the ability to influence U.S. foreign policy on Sunday, though he hedged on whether President Trump’s latest move — a pullback of troops from the Turkey-Syria border — was wise.

Trump’s seemingly impulsive Oct. 6 decision to remove U.S. troops from the border has been widely condemned by military and foreign affairs experts, and by lawmakers from both parties. 

It was also the first issue raised by a constituent at a town hall meeting Harris convened in Greensboro on Sunday afternoon. 

“The president ran three years ago saying he was going to begin withdrawing us from these conflicts,” Harris said. “The question has to be asked, how long is America going to stay in the middle of the Turkish-Kurd controversy? That struggle is 200 years old.”

Harris — the only GOP member of the state’s congressional delegation — did not explicitly embrace the president’s troop pullback, nor did he raise any concerns. He conceded “it could end badly.”

Media reports on Sunday described hundreds of civilian casualties, thousands of people fleeing the advancing Turkish military, Islamic State terror suspects breaking out of prison, a drop in U.S military morale, and a hit to America’s credibility.

Despite all that, Harris adopted a wait-and-see posture, giving Trump, who carried his Eastern Shore district overwhelmingly in 2016, the benefit of the doubt.

“On this one I’m going to give the president a little deference on this and see the way it turns out,” he said. 

The lawmaker’s lengthy discourse on the troop withdrawal included no mention of civilian casualties or the tactical concerns that lawmakers of both parties — and others — have expressed.

Asked by a reporter after the town hall whether he was concerned about fallout from Trump’s decision, Harris became angry. 

“No congressman has zero concern about what’s going on,” he said. “I resent the premise of the question. That actually is pretty insulting to me.” He did not elaborate. 

Harris was also pressed by constituents on the impeachment probe of Trump now under way in the House. Though public opinion polls suggest that Trump’s pressure on Ukraine’s president to investigate Hunter Biden’s business dealings is viewed with increasing alarm, Harris said Trump has done nothing wrong.

“I wouldn’t vote for an inquiry because I don’t think there’s anything right now that should lead to an impeachment,” he said. “And if no further evidence [comes out], I would vote against impeachment.” 

Harris said the proper recourse for the president’s critics is through the ballot box. “We can resolve all this through an election in 13 months,” he told the crowd of two dozen people gathered at the Greensboro Volunteer Fire Department’s Community Hall. 

When Harris was pressed by a constituent after the meeting — a woman who accused him of not answering her question — he dismissed the probe as “so partisan,” and he repeatedly asked if she supported a probe of Hunter Biden’s contract with a Ukrainian energy firm.

When a reporter later asked about Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), two prominent GOP leaders who have questioned the propriety of Trump’s phone call, Harris abruptly turned and walked away.

“Come on, come on. We’re done. We’re done,” he said, closing his car door in the journalist’s face.

Other audience questions in the hour-long session dealt with gun violence, the environment, energy, the opioid crisis and health care.

When members of the audience asked what can be done to stem the tide of mass shootings, Harris brushed aside the suggestion that access to firearms is the issue. “Guns don’t murder. People murder,” he said, to applause. 

While he acknowledged some concern about people with mental health challenges owning weapons, he offered a note of caution about restricting access to guns in certain cases.

“You slide down a very slippery slope when you say someone is dangerous because of their thoughts,” he said. 

He repeatedly pointed to Baltimore City, which he said is “out of control” because of “liberal policies.”

“It’s controlled by people who I believe think it’s more important to do other things than enforce the law.”

Harris’ town hall meeting in Greensboro was the first of three he had scheduled for Sunday and Monday. The other two were to take place in Easton Sunday night and Berlin Monday. 

The crowd seemed equally divided between Harris/Trump supporters and those who oppose Republican policy.

Harris was occasionally testy with those who took issue with his views.

When a constituent recalled Trump’s “coming to the defense of Nazis” after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., Harris shut her down.

“We’re not going to go any further than that,” he said, cutting the woman off. “This president did not go to the defense of Nazis.”

A few members of the audience applauded loudly.

“Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, the president never defended Nazis, so if that’s your question, the answer is no,” he continued.

Loud cross-talk followed as other members of the audience joined the fray. 

As he left the gathering in Greensboro, one man expressed support for Harris but said he wished someone would take away Trump’s cell phone.

“I agree,” the lawmaker said. “What they tell me is that his early-morning tweets are the ones that his staff doesn’t discuss with him. They get better during the day,” he said with a laugh. 

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.

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