GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote

The GOP-controlled Senate on Wednesday dealt a significant blow to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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 MattisPentagon reporters left in dark as Iran tensions escalate Trump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget Tensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be 'end of Iran' | Graham tells Trump to 'stand firm' | Budget talks begin 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 CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' 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 MurphyConnecticut radio station rebrands itself 'Trump 103.3' Foreign Relations senators demand Iran briefing Prosecutor appointed by Barr poised to enter Washington firestorm MORE (D-Conn.), who is sponsoring the Yemen resolution along with Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel MORE (I-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeFix the climate with smaller families Bolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran 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 GrahamTensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Press: Justin Amash breaks ranks with party Overnight Defense: Iran tensions swirl as officials prepare to brief Congress | Trump threatens war would be 'end of Iran' | Graham tells Trump to 'stand firm' | Budget talks begin 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 SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges 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) KhannaDem rep: You can't be a Democrat if you don't support abortion, LGBTQ rights House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row John Cusack calls for Trump's impeachment in Capitol Hill visit 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 CostaHouse GOP secures last-minute change to gun bill Trump tells FEMA not to send more money to California for forest fires GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote MORE (Calif.), Al LawsonAlfred (Al) James LawsonFlorida Republican who openly follows 'QAnon' conspiracy theory running for Congress GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Lawmakers trade barbs, torch Trump at DC soiree MORE (Fla.), Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonDemocrats, making a difference is better than making a point House votes to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act, closing 'boyfriend loophole' Overnight Health Care: Lawmakers get deal to advance long-stalled drug pricing bill | House votes to condemn Trump's anti-ObamaCare push | Eight House Republicans join with Dems | Trump officials approve Medicaid expansion in Maine MORE (Minn.) and David ScottDavid Albert ScottOn The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Democrats turn down White House invitation for shutdown talks Tennessee high court rules man who placed secret cam in 13-year-old's bedroom not guilty of child porn MORE (Ga.), and Rep. Dutch RuppersbergerCharles (Dutch) Albert RuppersbergerGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Overnight Defense: Trump says he may cancel G-20 meeting with Putin | Three service members killed in Afghanistan | Active-shooter drill sparks panic at Walter Reed Panic at Walter Reed after exercise mistaken as active shooter 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems 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) MenendezEnding the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungBipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills Pence, McConnell eulogize Sen. Richard Lugar On The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week 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 EngelHoyer: Dems will move quickly on anti-Israel boycott bill Trump faces criticism for hosting Hungary's leader This week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report 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 SmithLet's talk about education and school choice in 2020 Overnight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon's ability to transfer military construction dollars 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.”