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 TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates 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 LeeFairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act exposes Silicon Valley's hollow diversity slogans Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers join Nats Park fundraiser for DC kids charity Democrats look to demonize GOP leader Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia MORE (D-Conn.) and liberal Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Judd Gregg: Counting the costs of Democrats' desires 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 CornynGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand On The Money: Mnuchin warns US could hit debt limit in early September | Acosta out as Labor chief | Trump pitches trade deal in Wisconsin | FTC reportedly settles with Facebook for B fine 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 CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' 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 MattisThis week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' MORE warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller 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.