Tammy Duckworth

Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth visits the Illinois Fire Service Institute in Champaign on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

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CHAMPAIGN — Calling the president’s decision a “serious mistake,” Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth said Wednesday she will work with her Senate colleagues to try to halt the pullout of U.S. troops from Northern Syria.

Turkey began an offensive Wednesday against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, who had led the fight to defeat ISIS in that region but are considered terrorists by Turkey.

“I think it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do for the president to unilaterally abandon our allies who have stood alongside Americans,” Duckworth said during a stop at the Illinois Fire Service Institute in Champaign.

“We’re going back into session next week and I’m going to be talking to other members about what we can do in terms of cutting off funding for any of the activities he’s proposing,” said Duckworth, an Army combat veteran from the Iraq War.

“We can certainly not finish pulling out our troops. We can certainly be working with our allies,” she said later.

The White House had announced Sunday that Turkey would be carrying out a military operation in northern Syria and that U.S. troops would no longer be in that area. That prompted a bipartisan outcry, including from some of President Donald Trump’s staunchest GOP allies.

Trump has been eager to end U.S. involvement in Middle East conflicts, including Syria and Afghanistan.

Duckworth pointed out that the Kurds run camps holding upwards of 10,000 Islamic State fighters detained after their caliphate was destroyed.

“If the Kurds leave, those fighters get loose,” she said. “We certainly don’t need to fight ISIS all over again.

“I happen to agree that we have to find a way to get out, but abandoning our allies and setting free tens of thousands of ISIS fighters who would then turn around and attack Americans is probably not the right way to do it,” she said.

The senator also wants to hear from Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to find out whether they were consulted before the decision and if they agreed with the president.

“I have spoken to both of them during their confirmation hearings. At neither time did they support abandoning our allies,” she said.

“The president essentially had a phone conversation with the Turkish leader and said ... here you go,” Duckworth said. “I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that he just got approval for Trump Tower in Turkey. I would like to find out more.”

On impeachment

Regarding the ongoing impeachment fight, Duckworth said she doesn’t “necessarily support impeachment” but thinks House Democrats should continue their investigation despite the White House’s refusal to cooperate.

“I think that greater transparency is always better. I think there are some real questions, which is why I support the investigation moving forward,” she said.

“There are missing texts, there are missing transcripts,” she said. “If there’s truly nothing to hide, then why hide something?”

As a senator, Duckworth would have to decide whether to vote to remove Trump from office if he is impeached by the House. She said she will “wait to see what comes out as a result of the investigation. I think that transparency is what we need right now in these times when unfortunately there’s a lack of trust.”

During her visit Wednesday, Duckworth toured the Fire Service Institute as well as the University of Illinois Chez Center for Veterans.

Supported by state and federal grants, the Fire Services Institute is the oldest continuously operating organization of its kind in the country. It trains more than 64,000 first responders each year from 37 states and seven countries, said Director Royal Mortenson, a retired Marine colonel.

On other issues

— Vaping: Duckworth called for an immediate moratorium on vaping products “until we know what’s going on.” They have been linked to 23 deaths across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state agencies.

If a breakfast cereal was tied to that many deaths or injuries, Duckworth said, “consumers would be screaming to pull that breakfast cereal off the shelves. And yet we’re not doing that with these cigarette devices.”

— Financial aid: Duckworth cited her proposal to expand Teach for America and other national-service programs that allow students to earn money for college. Most of them have “Ivy League” acceptance rates, with not enough slots to fill demand, she said.

“If I got four years of college money for picking up a rifle, I think every 18-year-old in this country should get four years of college money for picking up a hammer or a soup ladle or a piece of chalk,” she said.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).