Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support

Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Tuesday rejected an effort to force President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE to end the U.S. military's support for Saudi Arabia's bombing operations in Yemen. 

Senators voted 55-44 to table the resolution, effectively killing it.

The resolution, spearheaded by Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeBipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package McConnell tries to unify GOP MORE (R-Utah) and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power Bernie Sanders: 'This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump stokes fears over November election outcome MORE (I-Vt.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senator calls for 'more flexible' medical supply chain to counter pandemics The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon GOP chairman to release interim report on Biden probe 'in about a week' MORE (D-Conn.), would require Trump to withdraw any troops in “or affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda. 

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Senate Republicans who voted against tabling the measure included Lee, Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power Billionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden Credit union group to spend million on Senate, House races MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power Credit union group to spend million on Senate, House races Trump seeks to turn around campaign with Supreme Court fight MORE (Mont.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranLobbying world This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes MORE (Kansas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Rand Paul says he can't judge 'guilt or innocence' in Breonna Taylor case Overnight Health Care: Health officials tell public to trust in science | Despair at CDC under Trump influence | A new vaccine phase 3 trial starts MORE (Ky.).

Democrats Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMurkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates MORE (Del.), Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoHillicon Valley: DOJ proposes tech liability shield reform to Congress | Treasury sanctions individuals, groups tied to Russian malign influence activities | House Republican introduces bill to set standards for self-driving cars Senators introduce bipartisan bill to mandate digital apps disclose country of origin Democratic Senate campaign arm raised nearly M in August MORE (Nev.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyHarris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Trump meets with potential Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett at White House Names to watch as Trump picks Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHarris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Centrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate passes resolution reaffirming commitment to peaceful transition of power Hopes for DC, Puerto Rico statehood rise Manchin defends Supreme Court candidate Barrett: 'It's awful to bring in religion' MORE (W.Va.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezKasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage MORE (N.J.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats sound alarm on possible election chaos Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson MORE (Fla.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedWhen 'Buy American' and common sense collide Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts MORE (R.I.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Feinstein 'surprised and taken aback' by suggestion she's not up for Supreme Court fight Hillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime MORE (R.I.) voted with the majority to table the measure.

The vote marks a victory for the administration, which lobbied hard against the resolution.

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies Trump says he wanted to take out Syria's Assad but Mattis opposed it Gary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November MORE urged Republicans to oppose the resolution during a closed-door lunch just hours ahead of the vote. And administration officials briefed all senators late last week to tout the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

“New restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis,” Mattis wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power MORE (R-Ky.) last week.

The United States has provided support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen's years-long civil war, including military advisers helping Saudi forces target enemies in Yemen for attack and U.S. planes refueling Saudi-led bombers on combat missions.

But senators have signaled growing concerns about the level of civilian casualties. The United Nations estimates that 10,000 people have been killed.

“This war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians, human beings, lest we forget. Each one of them possessing innate, immeasurable worth and dignity. This was has created refugees, orphans, widows,” Lee said.

Supporters of the resolution argue that too much power on foreign policy has been ceded to the executive branch and Congress needs to sign off on military action in Yemen. The Sanders-Murphy-Lee resolution would require congressional approval for future operations.

“It is Congress that has the power to declare war. The founding fathers gave the power to authorize military conflicts to Congress … not the president,” Sanders said. “For far too long, Congress under Democratic and Republican administrations has abdicated its constitutional role in authorizing war.” 

But supporters faced an uphill battle in the Senate where other efforts to place restrictions on the U.S.’s support for Saudi Arabia’s military action have fallen short. For example, last year, a resolution to block part of Trump’s $110 billion arms sale narrowly failed.

Murphy acknowledged that votes on the Democratic side remained “fluid” with members weighing whether or not to set a “new precedent.”

Menendez noted the Foreign Relations Committee, where he is the top Democrat, “has the jurisdiction over the questions of the use of force.”

“As we consider this resolution, we must fully grasp the situation on the ground and the scope of the attacks on one of our traditional security partners. Saudi Arabia has endured Yemeni-originated attacks inside its territory on a scale that no American would accept,” he said. 

GOP leadership publicly lined up against the resolution ahead of Tuesday’s vote. 

“Withdrawing U.S. support would increase, not decrease, the risk of civilian casualties. And it would signal that we are not serious about containing Iran or its proxies," McConnell said.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynQuinnipiac polls show Trump leading Biden in Texas, deadlocked race in Ohio The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Liberal super PAC launches ads targeting vulnerable GOP senators over SCOTUS fight MORE (R-Texas) added that the resolution should go back through the committee process, calling the move to bring it straight to the floor “very unusual.”

“Not all of us are as up to speed on the details of this or what the unintended impact might be as the Foreign Relations Committee that’s set up for the purpose of examining legislation,” he said.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHas Congress captured Russia policy? Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) noted that he and other lawmakers met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday and “strongly pushed back on what is happening right now in Yemen and asked them to take strong corrective actions.”

He added the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on Yemen in coming weeks, as well as markup a war authorization bill next month.

“We plan to have a Yemen hearing in the next few weeks to deal with this issue, but also to take up appropriate legislation. That is the way that we typically deal with issues of such importance,” he said.

He added that the way the forthcoming authorization for the use of military force bill is being constructed “when we go into new countries, when we take on new groups, the Senate would have the ability to weigh in on those issues.” 

Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate Democrats introduce bill to sanction Russians over Taliban bounties Trump-backed candidate wins NH GOP Senate primary to take on Shaheen Democratic senator urges Trump to respond to Russian aggression MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenate GOP eyes early exit Why the US should rely more on strategy, not sanctions Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Ind.) separately introduced legislation that would require the State Department to certify that Saudi Arabia is working in “good faith” to try to negotiate an end to Yemen’s civil war and alleviate the humanitarian crisis.  

If the secretary of State couldn’t make that certification, then steep restrictions would be placed on using U.S. funds to refuel Saudi-coalition aircraft.

Young added on Tuesday that the Lee-Murphy-Sanders resolution is the “wrong approach.” 

“[The] resolution sidesteps the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, doesn’t lead to the short of fulsome debate,” he said. “The legislation is never going to become law. It will never become law. It’s an exercise in messaging.”

The Senate vote came just hours after Trump met with bin Salman, who is visiting Washington for the first time since becoming next in line to the throne.

Trump, during the meeting, called Saudi Arabia a “very great friend and a big purchaser of equipment and lots of other things.”