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White House struggles to defend Trump’s Syria withdrawal plan

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Once the news broke, however, Trump did nothing to help key stakeholders better understand where he was coming from. On the contrary, Corker went to the White House for a previously scheduled meeting, only to have it cancelled while he was waiting.

Instead, the president deployed several messengers to try to explain his decision, including Vice President Mike Pence, who had been previously scheduled to attend a lunch with senators to discuss how to avert a looming government shutdown.

In the wake of the Syria announcement, however, Pence came to the lunch armed with White House talking points on the decision, which he delivered. Senators who attended the lunch later said it did not go well.

“I felt badly for the vice president because he had talking points and, I mean, um, you know, there’s no way he could really defend — he did what a loyal soldier would do, but it was not resonating,” Corker told reporters.

Later in the afternoon, the White House scheduled a briefing call for reporters on the Syria decision with a senior administration official.

But instead of shedding light on Trump’s process, or his rationale, the official, who was granted anonymity, said only that the decision had been Trump’s to make.

The official refused to comment on what they called “the deliberative process” that led to the decision, but pointed out that Trump has long expressed support for ending U.S. engagement in Syria. “He has believed for many years that we do not have a military role to play in Syria,” said the official. “I really don’t see how this is a surprise.”

When asked about National Security Adviser John Bolton’s recent pledge that U.S. troops would not leave Syria “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, ” the official struggled to come up with a way to explain the apparent contradiction between Trump’s announcement and Bolton’s pledge.

“The issue here is that the president has made a decision, so that previous statements, um, he gets to do that, so that’s his prerogative,” the official said.

And while the aide did not have any figures at hand on the number of troops who have already come home, they did confirm that “the process has begun and the planning is underway.”

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