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GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote

The GOP-controlled Senate on Wednesday dealt a significant blow to President TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit 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 MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog to probe extremism in US military | FBI chief warns of 'online chatter' ahead of inauguration | House conservative bloc opposes Austin waiver Conservative caucus opposes waiver for Biden's Pentagon pick Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' 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 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.), 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 MurphyDemocratic senator: COVID-19 relief is priority over impeachment trial Lawmakers push back on late Trump terror designation for Yemen's Houthis Bipartisan anger builds over police failure at Capitol MORE (D-Conn.), who is sponsoring the Yemen resolution along with Sens. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Biden to seek minimum wage in COVID-19 proposal Former Sanders spokesperson: Progressives 'shouldn't lose sight' of struggling Americans during pandemic MORE (I-Vt.) and 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), 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 GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Additional airlines ban guns on flights to DC ahead of inauguration 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 SessionsREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results National lawyers group seeks to have Gohmert disciplined over election suit On The Trail: The political losers 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) KhannaHouse Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis House impeaches Trump for second time — with some GOP support Stacey Abrams gets kudos for work in Georgia runoff election 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 CostaOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office |Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico | Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel Rep. David Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel DeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair MORE (Calif.), Al LawsonAlfred (Al) James LawsonLIVE COVERAGE: Congress certifies Biden win after Pennsylvania, Arizona challenges fail Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's virtual campaign swings through Florida MORE (Fla.), Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office |Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico | Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel Rep. David Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel MORE (Minn.) and David ScottDavid Albert ScottOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office |Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico | Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel Rep. David Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel DeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair MORE (Ga.), and Rep. Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerHillicon Valley: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments House approves legislation to send cybersecurity resources to state, local governments Hillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations 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 McConnellPelosi mum on when House will send impeachment article to Senate Democratic senator: COVID-19 relief is priority over impeachment trial The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history 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) MenendezYear-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 Trump offered 0 million to terrorism victims to save Sudan-Israel deal  MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher Young'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots GOP senator confronted by Trump supporters over electoral challenge: 'The law matters' 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 EngelState Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies How Congress dismissed women's empowerment 2020: A year in photos 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 SmithOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog to probe extremism in US military | FBI chief warns of 'online chatter' ahead of inauguration | House conservative bloc opposes Austin waiver Conservative caucus opposes waiver for Biden's Pentagon pick 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack 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.”