The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to caution President Donald Trump against swift U.S. troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan.
Trump revealed his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria in December, declaring that the U.S. had defeated Islamic State and no longer needed to deploy troops in Syria.
The Senate vote came just hours before Trump was scheduled to deliver his nationally televised State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.
“While I understand and respect President Trump’s desire to bring our troops home and to end these protracted wars, we must do so in a way that ensures enduring stability and protects our interests and those of our allies, the need for caution and reflection as we consider troops withdrawals,” South Dakota Republican John Thune said late last week in arguing for the reprimand of the president’s decision.
The Senate-passed bill also would facilitate penalties against U.S. companies that boycott Israel, a move that sorely divided Democrats and was portrayed by some Republicans as a litmus test of support for the Jewish state.
The chamber approved the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, 77 to 23. All of the votes in opposition came from Democrats, who rejected the anti-boycott measure in a bill that also provides military assistance for Israel, extends defense cooperation with Jordan and imposes new sanctions against the Syrian government.
The bill would allow U.S. states and cities to decline to do business with American companies that take part in a campaign to boycott and divest from Israel in order to pressure the Jewish state to alter its policies with regard to Palestinians and Israeli settlements.
Known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), the campaign describes itself as “Palestinian-led” and aims to end “international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.”
“This anti-Israel crusade has waged economic war against the Jewish state by pushing companies around the world to boycott any business with Israel or its entities,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said.
The legislation’s chief sponsor, Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, said the bill was designed to allow local governments “to boycott the boycotters.”
Democrats derided the legislation as an assault on America’s First Amendment constitutional right to free speech.
Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen called the measure “state-sponsored discrimination against disfavored political expression.”
“There’s not a single senator that voted against that bill that supports the BDS movement,” Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut told VOA. “This is simply a concern about First Amendment issues.”