GOP TURNS ON TRUMP! Senate Votes To End US Saudi Support
The Senate approved a resolution Thursday to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, dealing a significant blow to President Trump amid heightened tensions over the death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Senators voted 56-41 on the resolution, which would require the president to withdraw any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda.
The resolution would still need to be passed by the House before it could be sent to Trump, who has threatened to veto it. The House on Wednesday narrowly approved a rule governing debate on the farm bill that included a provision that would prevent lawmakers from forcing a war powers vote this year.
Still, the Senate vote Thursday underscores the depth of frustration with Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill, as well as the escalating gap between the White House and Congress on the relationship between the U.S. and the kingdom.
“I hope … we send a loud and powerful message by passing this resolution. That we’re going to bring peace to that country and that the United States Congress is going to reassert its constitutional authority to make the body that makes war not the president,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the sponsors of the resolution, told reporters.
The 56-to-41 vote was a rare move by the Senate to limit presidential war powers and send a potent message of official disapproval for a nearly four-year conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and brought famine to Yemen. Its immediate effect was largely symbolic, after the House earlier this week moved to scuttle it, all but assuring that the measure will expire this year without making it to Mr. Trump’s desk.
But the action signaled a growing sense of urgency among lawmakers in both parties to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the brutal killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and to question a decades-old bipartisan tradition of Washington averting its gaze from human rights abuses and other wrongdoing by the kingdom in the interest of preserving a strategically important relationship in the Middle East.
Senators also approved, by a voice vote, a resolution to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the kingdom’s throne, personally responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. The nonbinding measure also calls on Saudi Arabia to “moderate its increasingly erratic foreign policy” and urges an end to American air-to-air refueling of bombers operating in Yemen.
The United States stopped refueling Saudi warplanes operating in Yemen last month; the resolution would keep the Pentagon from restarting that support.
With the moves, senators were breaking forcefully with Mr. Trump, who has maintained steadfast support for Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed, even though the C.I.A. has concluded that he directed the grisly assassination of Mr. Khashoggi inside its consulate in Istanbul in October.
Mr. Trump dug in on that position on Tuesday in an interview with Reuters, saying he was standing by Prince Mohammed despite the C.I.A.’s findings, and saying the crown prince was “very strongly in power” in Saudi Arabia.
“I absolutely believe that if the crown prince came before a jury here in the United States of America, he would be convicted guilty in under 30 minutes,” Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “I absolutely believe he directed it. I believe he monitored it. And I believe he is responsible for it.”
Senators in both parties described the measures as direct responses to the refusal by Mr. Trump and his administration to hold Saudi Arabia to account for Mr. Khashoggi’s death, and a way to counter the president’s own statements that the money to be made from arms sales to the kingdom was enough to justify turning a blind eye to such a deed.
“We cannot sweep under the rug the callous disregard for human life and flagrant violations of international norms the Saudis are showing,” said Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
“Saudi Arabia has joined a sinister clique along with North Korea, Russia and Iran in its assassination of Jamal Khashoggi,” Mr. Menendez said. “A few more weapons purchases cannot buy our silence. It should not buy our silence, and if the president will not, Congress must act.”
The votes came only hours after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo implored members of the House of Representatives during a closed-door briefing to continue the military advising, logistics support and intelligence that have for years been shared with Saudi Arabia.
Some lawmakers emerged from the House meeting frustrated that Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Mattis had defended the United States’ relationship with the kingdom, which the White House needs to counter growing Iranian influence in the Middle East.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters after the briefing that “there’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw” tying the crown prince to the death — a direct rebuke to Mattis’s claim that there isn’t a “smoking gun” linking the crown prince.
Backers of the Yemen resolution did lose some GOP support since the initial procedural vote late last month. Some Republicans, like Graham, say they voted initially to advance the resolution because of the message it sent to Saudi Arabia and not because of the substance of the resolution.
Outgoing Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday that he couldn’t support the Yemen resolution but “I know that Lee-Sanders has the votes.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged opposition to the measure on Wednesday, while acknowledging members have “legitimate concerns” about Yemen and share “grave concerns” about Khashoggi’s death.
“[But] we also want to preserve the 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region,” McConnell said.
He added that the dynamic presents “challenging circumstances” but “the Sanders-Lee resolution is neither precise enough or prudent enough.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who also opposes the resolution, wrote in a Fox News op-ed Wednesday that while “the Saudis must answer for Khashoggi’s murder” the Sanders-Lee resolution “risks emboldening Iran and increasing the suffering of the Yemeni people.”
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