Senate Rebukes Saudis, Defies Trump With Call to Exit Yemen War
(Bloomberg) -- The Senate voted to withdraw U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen as punishment for the killing of dissident columnist Jamal Khashoggi -- a rebuke of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Donald Trump, who has sought to minimize the crown prince’s responsibility.
The resolution, adopted 56-41 on Thursday, is symbolic because the House doesn’t plan to take it up before the end of this year. A bipartisan group of senators say they’ll try again in 2019 to enact stronger legislation to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and impose sanctions against those involved in Khashoggi’s killing.
The Senate also adopted by voice vote a separate non-binding resolution, introduced by outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, declaring that the Senate believes Prince Mohammed is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
The resolution on Yemen, S.J.Res. 54, would seek to end U.S. assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war against Houthi rebels in that country. The United Nations has said as many as 14 million people could be at risk of starvation in Yemen coming months as famine spreads.
Trump has sought to emphasize the importance of the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia while insisting it’s uncertain whether Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi killed. Top senators received a classified briefing last week from CIA Director Gina Haspel and said afterward they were certain the crown prince directed the killing and dismemberment of the Washington Post columnist.
"I absolutely believe he directed it. I believe he monitored it. And I believe he is responsible for it," Corker said during debate on the measure Wednesday.
The House voted Wednesday to block members from forcing a vote on the Yemen resolution this month. Without action in both chambers by year’s end, it will be up to lawmakers to restart the entire debate when their new session starts in January.
"I hope and expect that the House of Representatives will take this resolution up early in 2019" under the new Democratic majority, said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat. "And with a substantial bipartisan majority today in the Senate, we’ve made it clear that we can pass this again, if need be, next year."
Senate Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a stronger proposal to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia and impose sanctions on those involved in Khashoggi’s killing. A bipartisan group of senators said Wednesday they’ll also try again to get a vote on that measure in January.
Congress needs to send a message to allies that "you cannot kill with impunity and believe you can get away with it," said Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky opposed the Yemen resolution, saying Wednesday that it threatens to upend U.S.-Saudi relations and could spark a constitutional fight with the Trump administration over war powers.
“There are more careful ways the Senate could express its concern about the conflict in Yemen or our partnership with Saudi Arabia without taking such a blunt instrument to the policy in this area,” McConnell said.
A group of bipartisan House leaders received a private briefing from Haspel on Wednesday, and on Thursday House members were briefed by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
New York Democrat Eliot Engel, the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it will no longer be "business as usual" with Saudi Arabia and promised hearings on all aspects of the U.S. relationship with that country, including arms sales.
"We’re going to be very thorough about it," Engel said.
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