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 John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance 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 LeeBipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package McConnell tries to unify GOP MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senator calls for 'more flexible' medical supply chain to counter pandemics The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon GOP chairman to release interim report on Biden probe 'in about a week' MORE (D-Conn.) and liberal Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power Bernie Sanders: 'This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump stokes fears over November election outcome 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 CornynQuinnipiac polls show Trump leading Biden in Texas, deadlocked race in Ohio The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Liberal super PAC launches ads targeting vulnerable GOP senators over SCOTUS fight 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 CorkerHas Congress captured Russia policy? Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump 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 MattisBiden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies Trump says he wanted to take out Syria's Assad but Mattis opposed it Gary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November MORE warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power 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.