GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote

The GOP-controlled Senate on Wednesday dealt a significant blow to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE by voting to advance a resolution ending U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen in the aftermath of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi’s slaying. 

Senators agreed to begin debate on the measure despite only 11 of the chamber’s 51 Republicans joining with all Democrats to support it. The legislation would require Trump to withdraw any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days; the president has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. 

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Senators were still haggling over amendments on Wednesday evening, but a final vote is expected this week. Both supporters and opponents say the resolution has the support needed to pass. 

The vote will mark the likely climax for the measure until 2019 since the House voted to block supporters from being able to force a vote this year by slipping the provision into a rule governing debate of the unrelated farm bill.

But the Senate’s actions underscore the depth of frustration with Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill, as well as the escalating gap between the White House and Congress on the U.S.-Saudi relationship. 

The administration is signaling it plans to stand by the Saudi government, with 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 and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHere's how the US can pressure Lebanon's new government tackle corruption Trump questions why NPR exists after Pompeo clashes with reporter Senate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' MORE lobbying members against cutting off support. Trump doubled down this week, telling Reuters that Riyadh has been “a very good ally” and “at this moment” sticking with Saudi Arabia means standing by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

But absent major concessions from the Saudi government, senators said there was little that could stop the Yemen resolution, which only needs a simple majority because it was being brought up under the War Powers Act. A growing number of senators are convinced of the Saudi crown prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s slaying. 

“I’ve sat at a very, very detailed, very detailed intelligence review of what happened with the journalist, the consulate in Turkey, and I absolutely believe if the crown prince came before a jury here in the United States of America, he would be convicted guilty in under 30 minutes,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman 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.), who is opposing the Yemen resolution. “I absolutely believe he directed it. I believe he monitored it and I believe he is responsible for it.” 

Frustration with Saudi Arabia runs deep on Capitol Hill and goes back years. The only successful veto override during the Obama administration, despite GOP control of Congress, came in 2016 when lawmakers overturned Obama’s veto of legislation that would allow victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. 

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats cry foul over Schiff backlash Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum Nadler gets under GOP's skin MORE (D-Conn.), who is sponsoring the Yemen resolution along with Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: Sanders leads Biden by 9 points in Iowa Poll: Biden leads in Iowa ahead of caucuses The Memo: Impeachment dominates final Iowa sprint MORE (I-Vt.) and 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), says he believes the Senate reached a turning point after a Saudi coalition airstrike hit a school bus in August in Yemen, killing dozens of children.  

“I know some people don’t want to believe this, but I think this resolution was going to pass even if Khashoggi was never murdered. I think the momentum was just growing toward getting the United States out of this war,” Murphy said. “I think there were 51 votes for this even before Khashoggi.”

The vote is a dramatic U-turn from less than nine months ago when the chamber pigeonholed the exact same resolution, not even agreeing to discharge it out of committee and on to the full Senate. At the time, 10 Democrats joined 45 Republicans in opposing it. 

And it comes as the administration has lobbied hard against the measure. Mattis and Pompeo, who briefed the Senate late last month and urged them to oppose the measure, are expected to give a similar briefing to the House on Thursday. 

CIA Director Gina Haspel also met, separately, with a group of Senate and House lawmakers, but only appeared to solidify the belief among senators that the crown prince is responsible. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters after the briefing that “there’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw” tying Crown Prince Mohammed to the death — a direct rebuke to Mattis’s claim that there isn’t a “smoking gun” linking the crown prince.

Haspel’s briefing in the House on Wednesday, though, did not appear to have a similar effect in the lower chamber. Despite the Senate vote, House Republicans on Wednesday effectively torpedoed any chances of a vote on the resolution this year by tucking a provision into a rule for floor debate of the farm bill that prevents House members from doing the same thing for the rest of the year.

House Republicans are not ruling out some form of action after their Thursday briefing.

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“We’re going to have a classified briefing tomorrow that will further allow debate based upon the facts of the case,” House Rules Committee Chairman Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTenth Congressional Black Caucus member backs Biden Giuliani held phone call with Maduro amid Venezuela crisis Texas GOP rep predicts heavy Democratic presence in state ahead of 2020 MORE (R-Texas) said on the floor. “We will be here all next week and if the facts of the case warrant, we will address the issue then.”

But in a sign of discontent, the move to take away the ability to force a vote on Yemen nearly stalled the farm bill, with the rule narrowly passing 206-203.

“The only reason the leadership is doing this is because they know that there are dozens of Republicans who will stand with Democrats to stop the killing in Yemen,” Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaWarren calls for Brazil to drop charges against Glenn Greenwald Sanders co-chair: Greenwald charges could cause 'chilling effect on journalism across the world' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules MORE (D-Calif.), who sponsored the House version of the resolution, said on the floor.

Eighteen Republicans voted with most Democrats against the rule. But five Democrats — House Agriculture Committee members Reps. Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaGroup of House Democrats reportedly attended the White House ball China, US officials: 'Phase one' trade deal could slide into next year Fresno congressman calls for Senate to take up gun legislation after deadly mass shooting at football party MORE (Calif.), Al LawsonAlfred (Al) James LawsonFlorida Rep. Charlie Crist endorses Biden Warren introduces bill targeted at food insecurity on college campuses Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support MORE (Fla.), Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to lay out impeachment case to senators next week House delivers impeachment articles to Senate MORE (Minn.) and David ScottDavid Albert ScottInside the progressive hunt for vulnerable House Democrats Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support MORE (Ga.), and Rep. Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerLawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Hillicon Valley: Senate passes bill to boost cyber help for agencies, businesses | Watchdog warns Energy Department failing to protect grid | FTC sues Match for allegedly conning users Senate approves bill to boost cyber assistance for federal agencies, private sector MORE (Md.)  — voted with Republicans, saving the rule.

Senate Republicans are eyeing sending a second rebuke to Saudi Arabia as soon as this week with a separate resolution that is expected to name the Saudi crown prince as “responsible” for Khashoggi’s death. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Bolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT MORE (R-Ky.) urged his colleagues to oppose the Lee-Sanders resolution on Wednesday while acknowledging members have “legitimate concerns” about Yemen and share “grave concerns” about Khashoggi’s death.

He added that the dynamic presents “challenging circumstances” but “the Sanders-Lee resolution is neither precise enough or prudent enough.” Instead, he publicly threw his support behind a forthcoming resolution from Corker. 

Corker has been negotiating for days with Senate leadership on the resolution, in the hopes that it could get a Senate vote as soon as this week. An overwhelming vote, he hopes, would pressure House leadership to quickly pass it before the end of the year. 

“A strong denouncing of a crown prince and holding them responsible for the murder of a journalist — it’s a pretty strong statement for the United States Senate to be making, assuming we can get a vote on it,” Corker told reporters this week.

But any further action on Yemen or a broader effort to crack down on Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s death is expected to spill into 2019, with lawmakers already eyeing the next steps. 

“I think there’s a willingness to move this in the House next year and it will be harder to pass in the Senate next year, because our margin will get thinner, but, yeah, I expect that we’ll start this process again next year,” Murphy said Wednesday about the Yemen resolution. 

Sens. 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 (D-N.J.) 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.) are expected to reintroduce legislation in the new Congress that 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. The amendment would also suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Senior House Democrats are already vowing to revive the Saudi Arabia and Yemen fights when they control the chamber next year.

Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelUS officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't 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 MORE (D-N.Y.), who is poised to be House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, emerged from Haspel’s briefing Wednesday pledging to hold hearings shortly after Jan. 1 on “all aspects of Saudi behavior.”

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-Wash.), the presumptive next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he’d support sanctions against Crown Prince Mohammed. He also raised the possibility of a push to cut off funding for the war effort, saying that a war powers resolution on its own won’t end U.S. involvement.

“At the end of the day, the president, going back to Thomas Jefferson, has always been able to do with the military what they wanted to do with the military, until Congress completely cuts off the money,” he said. “It is nonetheless important to do what Ro Khanna is doing and what Bernie Sanders is doing because it raises awareness and attention to the problem and the question of what we ought to be doing in Yemen.”