Senate advances Yemen resolution in rebuke to Trump

The Senate issued a sharp rebuke Wednesday to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE, easily advancing a resolution that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen’s civil war despite a White House effort to quash the bill.

The administration launched an eleventh-hour lobbying frenzy to try to head off momentum for the resolution, dispatching Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits Why US democracy support matters Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts four Chinese military officers over Equifax hack | Amazon seeks Trump deposition in 'war cloud' lawsuit | Inside Trump's budget | Republican proposes FTC overhaul MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCheney, House Republicans express 'serious concerns' with US-Taliban deal GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats Overnight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions MORE to Capitol Hill in the morning and issuing a veto threat less than an hour before the vote started.

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But lawmakers advanced the resolution, 63-37, even as the administration vowed to stand by Saudi Arabia following the outcry over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“There’s been a lot of rhetoric that’s come from the White House and from the State Department on this issue,” said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, 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' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “The rhetoric that I’ve heard and the broadcasts that we’ve made around the world as to who we are have been way out of balance as it relates to American interests and American values.”

The vote advances the resolution out of the Foreign Relations Committee, making it available for action before the full Senate.

The small step is a significant victory for supporters of the resolution, which fell six votes short of passage in March. The resolution, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBloomberg: 'I'm going to stay right to the bitter end' of Democratic primary race The Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE (I-Vt.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOcasio-Cortez knocks Pence: 'Utterly irresponsible to put him in charge of US coronavirus response' Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Schumer: Trump coronavirus response marked by 'towering and dangerous incompetence' MORE (D-Conn.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders top target at CPAC Trump upends controversial surveillance fight Former impeachment managers clash over surveillance bill MORE (R-Utah), would require Trump to remove troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days.

Senators are increasingly frustrated with Saudi Arabia amid growing questions about Khashoggi’s death and whether Riyadh is actively trying to limit civilian deaths in Yemen.

“In my mind it is imperative today that the United States Senate tell Saudi Arabia and tell the world that we are not going to be continuing to be part of that humanitarian disaster,” Sanders said. “We have to make the decision as to what happens in the war in Yemen and our role in that, and that’s what the vote today is about.”

Lee, who noted he and Sanders agree on very little, added that the vote was a matter of senators exercising their constitutional authorities on war.

“With regard to Mr. Khashoggi, this is an instance in which one man has died compared to many, many, many more who have died in connection with this war. It’s brought the eyes of the American people and turned them toward us and turned them also toward Saudi Arabia,” said Lee, who rarely speaks with reporters in the hallway. “In any event, regardless of what may have happened with Mr. Khashoggi, we are fighting a war in Yemen that we haven’t declared, that has never been declared or authorized by Congress. That’s not constitutional.”

The next Senate vote on the measure is uncertain. The Senate is expected to delay any additional votes related to the resolution until next week as the chamber works through a slate of previously scheduled nomination votes. And senators are privately discussing amending the resolution on the Senate floor, which would set up the sort of unpredictable outcome GOP leadership likes to avoid.

But that did little to stop momentum for the resolution, with supporters flipping 19 votes from March despite an all-out offensive from the White House.

In addition to briefing senators, the Pentagon and State Department took the rare step of publicly releasing Mattis and Pompeo’s closed-door opening statements ahead of the briefing, and Pompeo spoke to reporters in the Senate basement afterward.

In the briefing, Mattis and Pompeo argued that withdrawing U.S. support from the war would undermine efforts to improve Saudi targeting and broker peace at a time when those talks appear on the precipice of starting, according to their prepared remarks. The U.N. special envoy for Yemen has said he hopes to convene talks in December after receiving commitments from the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels it’s fighting.

“We made clear that they’re considering debating a resolution on the Senate floor which we think is just poorly timed,” Pompeo added in his comments to the press. “It would encourage the Houthis. It would encourage the Iranians. It would undermine the fragile agreement for everyone to go to Sweden and have this discussion.”

And the White House warned that it “strongly opposes” passage of the resolution and that advisers would recommend Trump veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

“The continued cooperation of the United States allows the administration to support the diplomatic negotiations to end the war, ensure humanitarian access, enhance efforts to recover United States hostages in Yemen and defeat terrorists that seek to harm the United States,” the White House said in a statement.

But the Trump administration’s tactic appeared to backfire, with several senators coming out in support of taking up the resolution after the briefing, saying the administration’s argument was unconvincing and that the White House made a fatal miscalculation by not sending CIA Director Gina Haspel to speak with senators.

“I don’t think the administration won over any troubled Republicans in that briefing,” Murphy told reporters. “It’s simply not persuasive that a vote to survive a tabling ... will have any effect on negotiations taking place in two weeks.”

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMenendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE (D-N.J.), speaking to reporters after the briefing, called Haspel’s absence from the meeting a “cover-up,” while Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Graham warned Pentagon chief about consequences of Africa policy: report Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump MORE (D-Del.) added that it was a “serious mistake.”

The CIA denied that the White House made the decision not to send Haspel. But even senators who did not support the resolution nonetheless said the briefing was inadequate without her.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump upends controversial surveillance fight The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump on US coronavirus risks: 'We're very, very ready for this' Surveillance fight emerges as intelligence flashpoint MORE (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, threatened to gum up the works of the Senate by withholding his vote on key items until the CIA briefs the full chamber.

Graham has not supported the underlying resolution, but said he voted to get it out of the committee because “this whole process is BS” without a CIA briefing.