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Pelosi faces pressure to act on Saudi Arabia
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is under pressure to quickly challenge President Trump on Saudi Arabia once she is elected Speaker and Democrats take back the House majority in January.
Members of her caucus are already planning hearings on the Saudi-led war in Yemen and are pressing for an early vote in January on legislation to withdraw U.S. support for the war.
The Senate approved a similar measure Thursday, but it will not be taken up by the GOP-held House.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) says he'll reintroduce his Yemen resolution next year, which his office promises "will be a top priority for the congressman in the first week of January."
Noting public criticism from the left of the five House Democrats who backed a Republican effort to block Khanna's bill, his office expressed confidence the measure, which is being offered under the War Powers Resolution, would be passed easily in a Democratic House.
"Considering that the five Democrats who defected in [Wednesday's] vote are being pilloried on social media, he is confident that every single Democrat will realize it's in their political interest to support the War Powers Resolution in January," Khanna spokeswoman Heather Purcell told The Hill in an email.
What's unclear is how quickly Pelosi wants to move to the measure.
A spokesman for Pelosi said Friday she intends to bring a measure to the floor, but did not offer a timeline.
"It is the Speaker-designate's intention to hold a floor debate on Yemen in the next Congress," spokesman Drew Hammill said in an email.
The Democratic leader, who essentially ended an uprising against her second stint as Speaker last week by agreeing to a deal that limits her Speakership to four years, herself has been tight-lipped about when she would bring Saudi legislation to the floor.
Earlier, she told reporters that there was an "appetite" within her caucus for taking action in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
But she offered no specific commitments.
"We'll see how events proceed, but there is bipartisan support for doing something," Pelosi said Thursday after a briefing on Saudi Arabia when asked about bringing a war powers resolution for a vote next year.
Pelosi also said she'd support sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "if the evidence is that he was" involved in Khashoggi's killing, while declining to say if she thinks U.S. intelligence shows that.
Pelosi is a co-sponsor of Khanna's resolution, as is her top deputy and the incoming chairmen of the national security-related committees.
Asked why she wasn't publicly committing to a vote given her sponsorship of the Khanna measure, a Democratic House aide said Pelosi may have been waiting to see how the Senate vote played out Thursday.
The incoming Speaker is widely expected to be methodical about the order in which she brings bills to the floor, given the symbolic importance of legislation taken up first by the new House majority.
Democratic leadership planned to focus first on their domestic agenda and have promised that their first bill will focus on voting rights. Pelosi is also juggling a stack of promises she made during her speakership campaign and the conflicting demands of new members.
Lobbyists backing the Khanna resolution are pledging to keep up the pressure.
"Until we hear House Democratic leadership commit to publicly bring up legislation to end the illegal U.S. war in Yemen in January, the lobbying continues to make Yemen a top priority in the 116th Congress," Kate Gould, legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, said in an email.
Gould noted Thursday's 56-41 vote in the Senate shows the bill can pass the Senate next year, when the GOP majority will rise by two seats.
Support for the Senate resolution has built since Khashoggi's killing. Nine months ago, supporters couldn't get a majority to kick a resolution out of the Foreign Relations Committee. Now it has been approved by the full Senate.
Because supporters are bringing the Saudi resolution up under the War Powers Act, they are able and planning to force a vote next year even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is opposed to the effort.
Gould also said it "certainly appears" there are enough votes in the House.
"We understand that there is a general tendency to hold off on items not on the Democrats' top priority list until committees are reconstituted and there has been an opportunity for committees to hold hearings and markups before moving legislation to the House floor," she said.
But she warned that a Yemeni child dies from disease "every 10 minutes that this vote is delayed, on average."
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a lead co-sponsor on Khanna's resolution, said in a statement that he and his colleagues "are actively working with Democratic Leadership to ensure urgent action in the 116th Congress to bring the conflict to a close."