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 anti-reg push likely to end up in court Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel 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 LeeWhite House withdraws ATF nominee after GOP pushback Hillicon Valley: Commerce announces new Huawei restrictions | Russian meddling report round five | Google's ad business in spotlight Justice Department signals opposition to Senate's surveillance bill MORE (R-Utah) and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel Biden wins Hawaii primary Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden MORE (I-Vt.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Congress eyes changes to small business pandemic aid Top Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump's ability to fire IGs 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 CollinsStakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill The other dangerous virus infecting our country MORE (Maine), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel Memorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry House to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance MORE (Mont.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMemorial Day during COVID-19: How to aid our country's veterans Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns MORE (Kansas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: States begin to reopen even as some areas in US see case counts increase Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Doctors push Trump to quickly reopen country in letter organized by conservatives MORE (Ky.).

Democrats Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsCongress must fill the leadership void Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Trump declines to say if he's 'standing by' nominee under investigation MORE (Del.), Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoThe Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice Demings says she's on Biden's VP short list The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin, Powell: Economy may need more boost; Trump defends malaria drug MORE (Nev.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinStakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December Congress headed toward unemployment showdown MORE (W.Va.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal Senate chairman schedules vote on Trump nominee under investigation MORE (N.J.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonLobbying world The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lobbying world MORE (Fla.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Trump to withdraw US from Open Skies Treaty | Pentagon drops ban on recruits who had virus | FBI says Corpus Christi shooting terror-related Trump to withdraw from Open Skies Treaty On The Money: Powell, Mnuchin split on benefits of easing COVID-19 restrictions | Warren, Mnuchin spar over Treasury's 0B bailout fund | Fight emerges over unemployment benefits in next relief bill MORE (R.I.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Judiciary Committee calls for national safety guidelines amid liability hearing Democrats ask for investigation of DOJ decision to drop Flynn case McConnell under mounting GOP pressure to boost state aid 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 Mattis'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? Trump sending ally to Pentagon to vet officials' loyalty: report Pentagon watchdog unable to 'definitively' determine if White House influenced JEDI contract 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 McConnellDemocratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes 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 CornynFive questions about the next COVID-19 relief package Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research 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 CorkerRomney is only GOP senator not on new White House coronavirus task force McConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' 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 ShaheenOpen Skies withdrawal throws nuclear treaty into question GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSave wildlife, save ourselves Bipartisan senators seek funding for pork producers forced to euthanize livestock The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Hurd says China engaged in global disinformation campaign; US unemployment highest since Great Depression 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.”