WASHINGTON — The Senate advanced a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudis in the Yemen war, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) changing his vote from rejection to support because he was “pissed” at how the Trump administration handled a briefing today on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The tally was 63-37 to advance the measure; when a final vote could occur is uncertain. All of the “no” votes came from Republicans, but Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Graham, Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) voted in favor of the resolution opposed by the White House.
The resolution from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to pull U.S. support from the Saudis in Yemen, unless Trump declares war, fared better than it did in March, when it fell six votes short.
“It’s Congress’s constitutional responsibility to authorize when the American military engages in war,” said Moran, who voted for it then and today. “Therefore, I will once again vote in favor of the joint resolution denying American military involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.”
“If the resolution prevails, it should help force a diplomatic resolution on the nearly 4-year-long war and reduce the humanitarian crisis where 14 million Yemenis are on the brink of death from starvation,” he added.
Young cited the administration’s briefing that “raised more questions than it answered”; many senators requested that CIA Director Gina Haspel appear, but the administration sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis to Capitol Hill.
Graham told reporters that he vented his concerns to the White House today. “I said, listen, it’s pretty obvious to me that we’re a co-equal branch, you’ve made your assessments about what the intelligence shows, I’d like to make my own,” he said. “The only way I can make that assessment is to be briefed. If it is credible that the crown prince was complicit, then I will take action consistent with that.”
“Gina Haspel, if all of the accounts are true, would have said with a high degree of confidence that in fact the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was involved in the murder of Jamaal Khashoggi, a United States permanent resident and a journalist,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). “And it is outrageous that we are willing to turn our eye away from search and murder because we have ‘interest.'”
“We were told in this briefing that it was at direction of the White House that she not attend,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “I cannot recall a briefing on such a sensitive measure where we have been denied access to the intelligence agencies of the United States. As a consequence, much of the testimony was interesting but not persuasive.”
When pressed on Haspel’s absence, Pompeo repeated to reporters, “I was asked to be here and here I am.”
Pompeo said he and Mattis “made clear” to lawmakers “that they’re considering debating a resolution on the Senate floor which we think is just poorly timed.”
“It would encourage the Houthis. It would encourage the Iranians,” he added.
“Regardless of what may have happened with Mr. Khashoggi, we are fighting a war in Yemen that we haven’t declared, that has never been declared or authorized by Congress,” Lee separately told reporters. “That’s not constitutional.”
Paul stressed that with “thousands upon thousands of innocent lives lost in Yemen, and millions living on the edge of famine, we must send a clear message that this is not what America stands for, and I welcome a robust debate on ending our involvement in the war, stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and restoring Congress’ voice in foreign policy.”