- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Republican-controlled Senate is on the verge of handing President Trump a symbolic but pointed rebuke on foreign policy, with a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers poised to buck the White House and approve a resolution demanding an end to any further U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 60 to 39 to open debate on the resolution, with a handful of Republicans joining the chamber’s Democrats. A final vote on the measure, a direct response to outrage generated by the October killing of U.S.-based dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, is expected before the end of the week.

While the White House, State Department and Pentagon have urged the Senate to reject the resolution and avoid damaging the strategically vital relationship between Washington and Riyadh, key lawmakers said Saudi Arabia’s actions — including the killing of Khashoggi and its brutal campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that’s claimed thousands of civilian lives — require pushback.

“You are not obligated to follow your friend into every misadventure they propose,” Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “When your buddy jumps into a pool of man-eating sharks, you don’t have to jump with him. There’s a point when you say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

The Trump administration, like previous Republican and Democratic administrations, has argued that Saudi Arabia’s strategic value — as a global energy superpower, as a customer of U.S. arms, and as a regional bulwark against Iran — make it too valuable an ally to abandon entirely.

But the Khashoggi killing has galvanized critics of Riyadh in Washington, who have joined with longtime skeptics of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and independent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, is expected to pass the Senate by a narrow margin, with enough Republicans joining Democrats to overcome opposition from the majority of the GOP caucus. But it likely won’t go any further, with the House having already taken action to block any debate on the issue.

House GOP leaders on Wednesday tacked on to broad farm bill legislation a provision barring the chamber from taking any action related to U.S. support for the war in Yemen. The move came just hours after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leadership on Khashoggi’s death.

The maneuver angered Democrats who had been hoping to wrangle a vote under the War Powers Resolution to cancel the U.S. military assistance to the Saudi government after the circumstances behind Khashoggi’s death came to light.

“You wonder why people are frustrated with Congress, why they think Congress lacks common sense,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat. “It’s because no one understands why you would have a vote on a farm bill and you would tie it to a vote on war and peace.”

In the Senate, the GOP leadership also is opposed to the measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday urged his colleagues to vote against the resolution, while acknowledging the mounting unhappiness with a key U.S. ally.

“There are more careful ways the Senate could express its concern about the conflict in Yemen or our partnership with Saudi Arabia without taking such a blunt instrument to our policy in this area,” he said during a Senate floor speech. “Indeed, this resolution would threaten other support the U.S. is providing that is designed to improve coalition targeting and limit civilian casualties” in Yemen.

Instead, Mr. McConnell encouraged senators to back a more modest proposal to be put forward by Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Corker’s resolution would declare Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the country’s de facto ruler — “responsible” for Khashoggi’s killing.

While the crown prince has denied any involvement with Khashoggi’s death — and took steps to punish Saudi agents who he said acted on their own, apparently murdering the journalist and dismembering his body, lawmakers said they’ve seen concrete evidence from U.S. intelligence agencies that implicates the aggressive young Saudi prince.

“If the crown prince came before a jury here in the United States, he would be convicted ‘guilty’ in under 30 minutes,” Mr. Corker said.

President Trump has forcefully defended the need to maintain ties with Saudi Arabia, casting doubt on U.S. intelligence conclusions pointing to the crown prince’s likely role in the Khashoggi criticism. But while the Senate resolution have virtually no chance of changing U.S. policy, it underscored the growing unhappiness on Capitol Hill with Riyadh.

Several senators argued that the U.S. cannot afford to let the Saudi regime think it can act with impunity around the world.

“The Saudi crown prince, unfortunately, has been left with the impression he can get away with almost anything — including murder,” said Sen. Todd Young, Indiana Republican.

The U.S. already has taken some steps to extricate itself from the war in Yemen. Pentagon officials, for example, said the U.S. would no longer refuel Saudi planes involved in bombing campaigns in Yemen.

The administration, however, has rejected bipartisan calls to halt arms sales to Riyadh.

— David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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