President Donald Trump made clear to Republican senators during a closed-door meeting Tuesday afternoon that he does not want to sanction Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile system, two Republican sources said, putting him at odds with a bevy of Republican senators.
There “wasn’t much appetite for that position” among the Republican senators in the meeting, one Senate Republican source said, explaining that Trump faced push back from lawmakers in the afternoon meeting at the White House.
Lawmakers have said the US doesn’t have a choice but to sanction Turkey over the purchase, based on the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, but Turkey’s status as a NATO ally has complicated the situation. A spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment about the meeting.
Trump has made clear publicly that he is reluctant to sanction Turkey over the purchase, blaming the Obama administration for Turkey’s purchase of the Russian missile system, saying it had refused to sell Turkey the American alternative to the missile system and lamenting his decision last week to cancel Turkey’s order of F-35 fighter jets.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Trump once again lamented his administration’s decision to cut Turkey out of the F35 program, telling the senators he wishes that he could still sell the jets to Turkey.
The law that requires the administration to sanction Turkey calls for the executive branch to act first and leaves little to no room for Trump to grant Turkey a waiver, analysts said.
One Republican aide said the President could find some wiggle room in the fact that it will take months before the S400 deliveries are complete. But ultimately, the US will have to act under the law.
While the meeting was slated to be focused on Turkey, Trump did not stay on topic throughout the meeting, which most Republican senators – including the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – attended.
One Republican source said Trump repeatedly hit former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker on Iran during the meeting. And at one point, he jabbed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, whom Trump has frequently sparred with.
“Nancy Pelosi hates me more than Mitt does,” Trump said at one point, gesturing to Romney, according to the Republican source.