Senate advances Yemen resolution in rebuke to Trump

The Senate issued a sharp rebuke Wednesday to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone 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 MattisTrump learns to love acting officials Shanahan says he's 'never favored' Boeing as acting Defense chief Trump moves to install loyalists MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Mueller report is a deterrent to government service Israel praises Trump on ending Iran oil sanction waivers Pompeo blames 'Islamic radical terror' for Sri Lanka attacks 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 CorkerPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump on tariffs 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 SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersThe biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone GOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Warren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college MORE (I-Vt.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam MORE (D-Conn.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP senator compares Mueller report's obstruction findings to 'Pinocchio' in 'Shrek 3' Dems sound alarm over top DOJ nominee Restore Pell Grant eligibility to people in prison 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) MenendezWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange 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 CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain 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 GrahamHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars DOJ: Dem subpoena for Mueller report is 'premature and unnecessary' Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions 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.