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 TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group 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 LeeThe self-fulfilling Iran prophecy No patriotic poll bump for Trump, but Soleimani strike may still help him politically Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it MORE (R-Utah) and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to Clinton: 'This is not the kind of rhetoric that we need' Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Human Rights Campaign president rips Sanders's embrace of Rogan endorsement MORE (I-Vt.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Nadler gets under GOP's skin Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial 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 CollinsSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Lawmakers introduce bill to reform controversial surveillance authorities Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says MORE (Mont.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses McConnell keeps press in check as impeachment trial starts MORE (Kansas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLindsey Graham will oppose subpoena of Hunter Biden Marsha Blackburn shares what book she's reading during Trump Senate trial Sekulow indicates Trump should not attend impeachment trial MORE (Ky.).

Democrats Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill Bezos phone breach escalates fears over Saudi hacking MORE (Del.), Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Senators push Pentagon on Syria strategy after withdrawal uproar, Soleimani strike Senate Democrats launch investigation into Trump tax law regulations MORE (Nev.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSusan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same MORE (N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Trump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer MORE (W.Va.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMedia's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle Dem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (N.J.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world Bottom Line MORE (Fla.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Dozens of US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries after Iran missile strikes Six mayors making a difference MORE (R.I.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency from chopping block Citizens United decision weathers 10 years of controversy Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change 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 MattisLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book 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 McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators 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 CornynNadler gets under GOP's skin Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public 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 CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 Shaheen2020 forecast: A House switch, a slimmer Senate for GOP — and a bigger win for Trump Lewandowski decides against Senate bid Biden would consider Republican for VP 'but I can't think of one right now' MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Impeachment trial forces senators to scrap fundraisers Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner 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.”