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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 TrumpLil Wayne gets 11th hour Trump pardon Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports 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 LeeRepublicans wrestle over removing Trump Lawmakers, leaders offer condolences following the death of Capitol Police officer GOP senators urging Trump officials to not resign after Capitol chaos MORE (R-Utah) and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump leaves changed nation in his wake Cori Bush dismisses concerns of being 'co-opted' by establishment The Memo: Biden prepares for sea of challenges MORE (I-Vt.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act GOP senator questions constitutionality of an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February 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 Memo: Biden prepares for sea of challenges Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesYellen champions big spending at confirmation hearing McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump MORE (Mont.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) Moran'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Electoral College fight splits GOP as opposition grows to election challenge Hillicon Valley: Texas, other states bring antitrust lawsuit against Google | Krebs emphasizes security of the election as senators butt heads | Twitter cracks down on coronavirus vaccine misinformation MORE (Kansas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Legislatures boost security after insurrection, FBI warnings Former Missouri senator says backing Hawley was 'worst mistake of my life' MORE (Ky.).

Democrats Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsRomney calls for Senate to pass sanctions on Putin over Navalny poisoning Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster Security concerns mount ahead of Biden inauguration MORE (Del.), Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoWhy are millions still flowing into the presidential inauguration? Transition of power: Greatness meets infamy Overnight Defense: Pelosi confers with top general on preventing Trump nuclear strike | Biden fills out his national security team MORE (Nev.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHarrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA guidance may exempt some water polluters from Supreme Court permit mandate | Vilsack's stock rises with Team Biden | Arctic wildfires linked to warming temperatures: NOAA MORE (N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMcConnell, Schumer fail to cut power-sharing deal amid filibuster snag Josh Hawley has a new publisher — that's good news This week: Tensions running high in Trump's final days MORE (W.Va.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen Year-end deal creates American Latino, women's history museums Lawmakers call for including creation of Latino, women's history museums in year-end spending deal MORE (N.J.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonGeorgia Senate races shatter spending records Georgia voters flood polls ahead of crucial Senate contests The Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots MORE (Fla.), Jack ReedJack ReedAustin pledges to empower Pentagon civilians 15 former Defense officials back waiver for Austin to serve as Defense secretary What to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing MORE (R.I.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats seize on GOP donor fallout Senior Democrat says Hawley, Cruz should step down from Judiciary Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure 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 pick for Pentagon cruises through confirmation hearing Lloyd Austin is the right nominee for defense secretary and the right leader for this moment Austin pledges to empower Pentagon civilians 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 has talked to associates about forming new political party: report McConnell, Schumer fail to cut power-sharing deal amid filibuster snag McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment 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 CornynMcConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment Schumer: Trump should not be eligible to run for office again Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday 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 CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' 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 ShaheenBipartisan group of senators: The election is over Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 How Congress dismissed women's empowerment MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungLobbying world Biden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack 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.”