WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House on Wednesday despite gathering objections from lawmakers that the authoritarian leader is sowing chaos in the Middle East.
As the House Intelligence Committee began public hearings on whether to impeach the president, Trump embraced the other controversy weighing on his White House: An Oct. 6 phone call with Erdogan that cleared the way for Turkey to invade Syria.
"It's time for us not to be worried about other people's borders," Trump said sitting next to Erdogan in the Oval Office. "I want to worry about our borders."
Trump had said he envisioned a significant expansion of trade with Turkey.
The meeting with Erdogan, in the works for weeks, allowed Trump to marshal some attention away from the impeachment hearings taking place on Capitol Hill, but it also renewed focus on an issue that has caused rebellion within his own party.
"I share my colleagues' uneasiness at seeing President Erdogan honored at the White House," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday. "But I urge this body to remain clear-eyed about our nation's vital interests in the Middle East and the fact that advancing them will mean strengthening our relationship with this NATO ally."
The Trump-Erdogan meeting, which will include a joint press conference, could prove to be a political hornet's nest, provoking fresh bipartisan anger over Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in what many lawmakers saw as a betrayal of the Kurdish forces that helped American troops fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Trump invited Erdogan to Washington during a phone call Oct. 6.
Lawmakers in both parties questioned Trump's ties with Erdogan. More than a dozen members of Congress called on Trump to rescind his invitation to Erdogan, saying the Turkish leader's actions should not be rewarded with a high-profile White House visit.
In an effort to ease those concerns, Trump has invited a group of Republican senators to meet with Erdogan. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters he would likely be one of those in attendance. While a major ally of Trump's, Graham has been highly critical of Erdogan and Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.
Trump will have to perform a "high-wire act," trying to calm lawmakers in Congress outraged over his dealings with Erdogan while trying not to alienate the Turkish leader and NATO ally, said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington foreign policy institute.
Trump is "in danger of offending both sides, or at the very least pleasing neither," he said.
Trump has described Erodgan as a "gentleman" and "tough cookie" but said "we get along great." Like Trump, Erodgan has said he is opposed by "deep state" elements within his country.
Erdogan's visit comes amid reports of clashes in Syria - and questions about whether Turkish-backed forces have engaged in ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. Turkey's assault, along with the U.S. withdrawal from northeastern Syria, has prompted more than 180,000 civilians to flee the border areas, according to the United Nations.
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Although the United States brokered a cease-fire between Turkey and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, it's not clear how well that is holding. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, fighting has continued this week between the SDF and forces loyal to Turkey. Russian and Syrian government troops have moved in to fill the power vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal.
"The cease-fire is holding very well," Trump said in the Oval Office.
Trump will probably focus on trade negotiations and Turkey's purchase of a Russian-made missile system, the S-400. Turkey received delivery of the Russian weapons system this year, despite stern U.S. warnings against such a move.
The White House responded by canceling Turkey's participation in the Pentagon's elite Joint Strike Fighter program, saying the S-400 system could be used to collect sensitive data on the F-35 jet fighter program, making Turkey's participation "impossible."
Trump is under pressure to impose stiff sanctions on Turkey for the S-400 purchase, as well as for its Syria attack. The House approved a biting sanctions bill last month aimed at crippling Turkey's economy and punishing Erdogan personally by requiring an assessment of his net worth.
"We'll be talking about it," Trump said of the weapons purchase.
Contributing: John Fritze, David Jackson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: After Syria attack, Trump welcomes Turkey's Erdogan to White House