Senate edges closer to rebuking Trump on Saudi Arabia

Senators are closing in on a deal to defy President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer Joint Chiefs chairman: 'The last thing in the world we need right now is a war with Iran' Pence: 'We're not convinced' downing of drone was 'authorized at the highest levels' Trump: Bolton would take on the whole world at one time MORE on Saudi Arabia, as support grows for tougher action over the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The emerging agreement would lead to a vote next week on a bipartisan resolution that would require Trump to withdraw troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days, unless they are fighting al Qaeda.

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Lawmakers involved in the negotiations say that because the Yemen resolution is being brought to the floor under the War Powers Act, with only a simple majority needed for passage, it’s all but guaranteed to be approved.

“I won’t support it, but it will pass,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment Jeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump MORE (R-Tenn.).

A legislative rebuke of that magnitude would mark a significant break with Trump, who is threatening to veto the measure and has said “we may never know all the facts” around the death of Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who wrote for The Washington Post. He died after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship is at a low point on Capitol Hill after a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel this week left senators convinced that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the journalist’s slaying.

Senate leadership hasn’t announced when they plan to begin consideration of the resolution; the Senate voted 63-37 last week to advance the measure to floor debate.

Corker predicted that the next vote would take place on Wednesday.

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However, several issues remain unresolved that could complicate how quickly the Yemen resolution gets a final vote, namely whether negotiators and leadership can agree on the terms of debate to avoid a messy fight on the Senate floor.

“I don’t think either side wants to have a vote-a-rama, where there’s no germane-ness standard, and anything and everything that people want to have voted on they could offer as an amendment and we would have to vote on it,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber.

Without an agreement for floor debate, senators warn that they would have to go through a “vote-a-rama,” which could eat up precious floor time and force senators to take tough votes on any issue, including politically divisive ones. The unpredictable free-for-all is the type of scenario that GOP leadership tries to avoid by keeping a tight grip on the Senate floor proceedings.

Corker and Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, are hopeful they will be able to avoid that by requiring all amendments to be “germane,” or related to Yemen. Senators are largely in unknown territory with the war powers fight, but they expect to be able to force a vote on the resolution and require that all amendments are on-topic.

“If there was a majority vote for that, which I believe there would be, then you would have a very limited number of amendments that can be offered,” Menendez said.

Corker predicted that enough “good governance guys” on the Republican side would vote with Democrats to limit what amendments could be offered, even if those GOP senators wouldn’t ultimately vote for the Yemen resolution.

But not all supporters are optimistic that they’ll be able to avoid a free-for-all, emphasizing that they want clearer signals from Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senators divided over approach to election security Democrats seek to ban federal spending at Trump businesses Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale Trump faces skepticism about Iran war authority from both parties MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Foreign Relations panel, said he wouldn’t “presuppose” that supporters have the votes to limit amendments.

“I’m nervous to give you an opinion without leadership weighing in,” he said. “I’ve talked to lots of members about their desire to limit debate but I have not heard definitively from the majority leader or the minority leader.”

But he was confident about final passage. "We certainly have 51 votes for the final resolution," he said.

In addition to likely passing the Yemen resolution, sponsored by Murphy and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage Sanders: Trump taking credit for easing tensions he helped create 2020 Democrats vow to expand abortion access at Planned Parenthood event MORE (I-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Utah), senators are trying to figure out if they can pass two other proposals by the end of the year.

One, from Menendez and Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ind.), would require sanctions within 30 days on anyone involved in Khashoggi’s death, including “any official of the government of Saudi Arabia or member of the royal family” determined to be involved.

It also would require a report within 30 days on the kingdom’s human rights record. To help address the Yemen crisis, the measure would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and prohibit the U.S. military from refueling Saudi coalition aircraft.

The second proposal, spearheaded by Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE (R-S.C.), is a non-binding resolution naming the crown prince “complicit” in Khashoggi’s death.

Corker said he is hoping to have a markup in the Foreign Relations Committee next week to consider the Menendez-Young measure.

The Tennessee Republican, who’s retiring next month, said he is in discussions with Menendez and Young about changes to their legislation, which he says keep the “substance” of the measure “intact.” If those two senators sign off on the revisions, Corker said he would support their bill.

Menendez and Young acknowledged they are considering Corker’s suggestions but were noncommittal about if they would incorporate them.

If Corker wants a committee markup early next week he would need Menendez to agree to hold one. The Democratic senator said he has not yet agreed to a markup.

A spokesman for Menendez declined to comment further, noting that Corker hasn’t formally requested a committee meeting.

But even if the panel advances the Menendez-Young measure, it’s uncertain whether it would be able to get approval on the Senate floor before the end of the year. Senators said they don’t think it could be attached to the Yemen resolution because it stretches beyond the war powers fight.

“So where does it go from there — is there a spending bill it can be attached to?” Corker asked. “Is there something else that you might attach it to to make it law?”

Menendez added that he was looking for a “vehicle” to get the bill considered this year.

Cornyn said senators should condemn Khashoggi’s killing without fracturing the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which could make Graham’s resolution the right path.

Corker added that Graham’s resolution was a good start but he is discussing a resolution on Khashoggi’s death that “adds a few words to it” and has the “right balance.” He added that if they could get it right, “it’s possible” McConnell brings it straight to the floor, where he believed it would get 90 votes.

“I think it’s important for us to pass something in the Senate that strongly condemns what this crown prince has done in killing this journalist,” Corker said. “Especially since he did it.”

--Rebecca Kheel contributed