Senate, Trump clash over Saudi Arabia

The Senate is headed for a clash with the Trump administration over Saudi Arabia this week. 

The chamber is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution directing the U.S. military to stop cooperating with Saudi bombing operations in Yemen, an action the administration strongly opposes. 

The vote comes at an awkward time, as President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE is meeting Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his first trip to Washington since becoming next in line to the throne.

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Supporters of the bipartisan Senate resolution, which has the backing of conservative Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeNo deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall The congressional debate over antitrust: It's about time MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyRepublicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO Israel signals confidence in its relationship with Biden MORE (D-Conn.) and liberal Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo This week: Congress starts year-end legislative sprint Restless progressives eye 2024 MORE (I-Vt.), are pressing hard for a debate.   


As civilian deaths mount in Yemen, where an estimated 10,000 people have died in a years-long civil war, these senators say it’s time for Congress to claw back some of its warmaking authority from the executive branch.

“The Constitution is pretty clear on this point. It says that Congress shall have the power to declare war. Congress — not the president, not the Pentagon, but Congress,” Lee said on the floor last week.

U.S. military advisers are helping Saudi forces target enemies in Yemen for attack and U.S. planes are refueling Saudi-led bombers on combat missions.

“The War Powers Resolution was designed to stop secret, unauthorized military activities such as these. So Congress is well within its right to vote on whether these activities should continue,” Lee said.

Republican leaders are trying to postpone action on the resolution until after Salman’s visit by sending it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I hope what will happen is that we will not in our haste make a mistake that we’ll come to regret,” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynMental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024 MORE (Texas).

“I think the better course is for the Foreign Relations Committee to take this up and to have a hearing and to make a recommendation to the whole Senate rather than just have this pop and have people voting on it and perhaps live to regret it later on,” he added.

Cornyn said he expected that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) will recommend moving the resolution through his committee before bringing it to the floor.

Corker is scheduled to meet with Salman on Capitol Hill this week, according to a spokesman.

Salman has been a leading proponent of the kingdom’s military effort to push Shiite rebels known as the Houthis out of power in Yemen. The Houthis are allied with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s chief military and political rival in the region.

Saudi Arabia is predominately Sunni, a competing tradition of Islam. 

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo On The Money — Biden stresses calm amid omicron fears MORE (R-Ky.) in a letter last week that cutting off U.S. support for the military operation in Yemen would be a mistake.

“New restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counter-terrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis,” he wrote.

The Yemen War Powers Resolution is privileged and guaranteed to get a vote on the floor at some point, but leaders could delay action by filing cloture motions on other Senate business. 

Lee, Sanders and Murphy, however, have leverage — GOP leaders need unanimous consent to pass an anti-sex trafficking bill and an omnibus spending package before a two-week congressional recess scheduled to begin Saturday.  

The tensions come amidst growing criticism in Congress of Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, over its human rights record and links to terrorist organizations.

Complicating matters is a $110 billion arms deal that Trump is trying to finalize with Saudi Arabia and several other Middle Eastern countries despite some reservations on Capitol Hill.

There are also significant U.S. commercial interests at stake.

Defense contractor Raytheon is pressing for a green light to go ahead with the sale of 60,000 smart bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which is also participating in the bombing of targets in Yemen.

Corker criticized Saudi Arabia last year for not doing more to crack down on financing of terrorists, and put a hold on the arms deal, which he just recently lifted.

In July, he charged that significantly more support for terrorist groups is coming from Saudi Arabia than from Qatar, which Trump accused last year of being a state sponsor of terrorism.

The Trump administration took Saudi Arabia’s side in the dispute last year, just as it has in the current debate over whether to continue U.S. military support of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen.

Senate sources are split over what chance the bill would have of passing. Because it is a privileged resolution, it only needs a simple majority to pass.

Two Senate aides said it has a good shot of rounding up 51 votes, but Murphy, one of the original sponsors, cautioned that success is far from a sure thing.

He said votes on the Democratic side of the aisle are “fluid,” and the administration is going all-out to persuade Republicans to vote against it.

“I think a lot of members on our side are tying to figure out what a ‘yes’ vote means, what a ‘no’ vote means,” Murphy said. “The administration is spending a lot of energy trying to spin the rationale for this war. I would expect that most Republicans would oppose it.”

Jordain Carney contributed.