Washington D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) delivered the following opening remarks at today’s full committee hearing titled, “Searching for Solutions in Syria: The Trump Administration’s Strategy.”

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-Remarks as Delivered-

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“Today, as we speak, the State Department is investigating signs that the Assad regime used chemical weapons in an attack on northwest Syria on Sunday. If true, this is very grave and serious news. I thank the Administration for their forward leaning statement that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons the United States and our allies will respond forcefully.

“Ambassador Jeffrey, I want to thank you for being here today. I want to thank you for your service. We are grateful for the leadership you have served both as the Special Representative for Syria Engagement and the Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. You certainly, sir, have a lot on your plate and I want to thank you for everything you have done for the country.

“In 2012, President Obama told the world he had a “red line” in Syria that Bashar al-Assad dare not cross or would have to deal with the United States. In 2013, Assad crossed that line using sarin gas on his own people.

“I remember seeing dead men, women and children in hospitals and on the street, writhing in pain as they died. 

“The world cried out against this crime against humanity.  And yet the Obama Administration did NOTHING. 

“Because we were absent, Putin was able to intervene and his Russian forces continue to enable Assad’s carnage in Syria today.

“Under Assad’s reign, buoyed by Russia, ISIS grew, millions of Syrians were forced to flee and terrorists hidden among them attacked innocents in France, England, Spain, Turkey and Northern Africa, anywhere they could go to attack in the name of ISIS.

“Thousands of foreigners remain in Iraq and Syria. These include ISIS fighters, their families, and children born under ISIS’ rule. I encourage nations around the world to bring their citizens home and deliver justice as America has done. 

“I was greatly concerned by the announcement that the United States, as was the Chairman, that we would withdraw its military presence from Syria. Fortunately, the Administration has slowed its timeline for withdrawal.

“I would argue that we cannot afford to withdraw and leave a power vacuum just as the Obama Administration did in Iraq which caused ISIS to rear its ugly head.

“As violence and instability continue to plague Iraq and Syria, the world must support a sovereign, democratic Iraq and counter the meddling of nations like Iran, like we heard in our classified briefing yesterday. 

“Compounding an already dire situation, Bashar al-Assad continues to consolidate his hold over Syria through unrelenting brutality.

“Most recently, he and his Russian backers escalated their attacks on innocent civilians in Idlib, contrary to international agreements.

“Chairman Engel and I have called on Assad and Putin to stand down immediately. 

“I am encouraged that the Senate is marking up our Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act today.

“This bill holds Assad, and those that back him, accountable through sanctions for his brutality against innocent people. He cannot be rewarded by the U.S. offering assistance to rebuild his regime.

“Millions of civilians have fled Assad’s oppression and violence, causing devastating humanitarian, probably the most devastating humanitarian and refugee crisis in the world. Neighboring host countries have done their best to help, but are reeling from the influx of refugees in Turkey, Jordan, elsewhere and Europe. The United States has been a key partner in providing foreign assistance, but this crisis will only intensify under Assad’s continued control.

“The United States cannot accept a butcher like Assad as the leader of Syria. We cannot normalize relations with him, and we should be doing everything we can to urge other countries to similarly withhold normalization, including economic ties, with Syria. 

“Earlier this month, the New York Times published an in-depth examination of the Assad regime’s vast network of prisons. Over one hundred thousand people entered these prisons and never came out. We saw the pictures, the Chairman and I, with a man named Omar who escaped these prisons and it was nothing short of a holocaust. The world cannot and must not pretend Assad is a legitimate head of state. An Assad-run Syria should never be open for business. 

“The problems with the regime are not only Assad himself, but his cozy relationship with Iran and Hezbollah. As this Committee knows well, Iran is using Syria as part of its “land bridge” connecting Iran to the Mediterranean Sea. From their perch in Syria, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah they can easily transfer weapons to Lebanon and threaten our ally Israel.

“So Ambassador Jeffrey, I look forward to hearing your assessment of these threats. What if anything can be done in terms of political reconciliation and what could be done in terms of solutions.

“Before I close, Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask unanimous consent that Representative French Hill (R-AR), an original co-sponsor of your Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, be recognized to participate in this hearing as specified in committee rule 4B4. 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”