The US Senate approved a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, dealing a stinging rebuke to President Trump amid heightened tensions over the death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Senators voted 56-41 on the resolution, which would require the president to withdraw any troops in or “affecting” Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda; in doing so the Senate defied a veto threat from the White House which has vowed it would block the legislation.
However, beyond sending a symbolic message, the vote is largely moot as on Wednesday, as part of the Farm Bill passage, the House voted to block members from forcing a war powers vote this year. Still, the Senate vote Thursday underscored the depth of frustration with Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill, as well as the escalating gap between the White House and Congress on the relationship between the U.S. and the kingdom.
Senators said passage sends a strong message to the Saudi crown prince because it targets his most important foreign policy priority. And just to make sure the Senate was heard loud and clear, the Senate also passed a measure which said that the Saudi Crown Prince was behind Khashoggi's death.
“I hope … we send a loud and powerful message by passing this resolution. That we’re going to bring peace to that country and that the United States Congress is going to reassert its constitutional authority to make the body that makes war not the president,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the sponsors of the resolution, told reporters.
“A strong denouncing of a crown prince and holding them responsible for the murder of a journalist. It’s a pretty strong statement for the United States Senate to be making, assuming we can get a vote on it,” Senator Bob Corker told reporters this week.
It’s a dramatic U-turn from less than nine months ago when the chamber pigeonholed the exact same resolution, refusing to vote it out of committee and onto full Senate. At the time, 10 Democrats joined 45 Republicans in opposing it.
The resolution's passage comes less than a day after Trump maintained that he would stand by the Saudi government and specifically Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, whom U.S. intelligence officials reportedly believe ordered Khashoggi's killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October.
Trump told Reuters on Tuesday that Riyadh has been “a very good ally” and “at this moment” sticking with Saudi Arabia means standing by the crown prince.
The Trump administration had led a lobbying effort to try to squash the Senate resolution. In addition to a veto threat, they sent Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to brief senators and privately urge them to oppose the resolution.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday that he couldn’t support the resolution but “I know that Lee-Sanders has the votes.”
According to The Hill, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged opposition to the measure hours ahead of the vote, while acknowledging members have "legitimate concerns" about Yemen and share "grave concerns" about Khashoggi's death. "[But] we also want to preserve the 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region," McConnell said.
The House is expected to get the same briefing on Thursday.