“The purpose of this meeting is to have an American civics lesson for our friends in Turkey,” Graham told reporters at the White House.
Republican senators have threatened to sanction Turkey or Erdogan after his incursion into Kurdish Syria, though they have delayed that effort while Erdogan is in town. Trump, meanwhile, praised Erdogan as one of his “very good friends” and talked up expanding the U.S. trade relationship with Turkey.
The five senators were so interested in the U.S.-Turkey relationship that they stayed behind after the more than hour-long private meeting to watch Trump’s press conference with Erdogan. Most had harsh words for Erdogan ahead of the meeting, which Scott said was intended “to make sure “Turkey is heading in the direction of the United States, not heading in the direction of Russia.”
“The strategy here is that Erdogan has chosen the S400 as the system of choice from Russia and we would be there to encourage President Erdogan not to follow that route,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), another attendee. “I’m hopeful that the president can push back on the S400.”
“I have long described Turkey as a problematic ally,” Cruz said. “Turkey has far too frequently been antagonistic to U.S. interests, and in particular their assault on and violence against the Kurds is deeply problematic.”
Ernst said she “may” also bring up the issue of human rights in Turkey. Cruz said he would tell Erdogan that Turkey attacking the Kurds “would be utterly unacceptable.”
During Erdogan’s last visit, Turkish security guards attacked protesters in Washington, prompting dissatisfaction among some lawmakers about Trump’s response. This this time, the tensions are much more inflamed between the president’s own political party and Erdogan .
Hawkish Senate Republicans were outraged about Trump’s decision to remove the U.S. presence from Northern Syria, prompting the Turkish military to move into the area and scrambling the U.S. alliance with the Kurds, who were key in the battle against ISIS.
Trump himself seemed unbothered with the relationship.
“Turkey, as everyone knows, is a great NATO ally,” Trump said at the joint press conference. “I’m a big fan” of Erdogan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced a resolution last month asking that Trump rescind his invitation to Erdogan unless a ceasefire was struck between the Turks and Kurds.
McConnell reiterated his distaste for Erdogan on the Senate floor on Wednesday morning.
“Although I have expressed concerns about granting President Erdogan such an honor in light of his recent actions, I hope the meeting produces better behavior from this important NATO ally,” McConnell said. “I know the vast majority of my colleagues share my concerns about Turkey’s recent behaviors.”
Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.