WASHINGTON — The Senate delivered a double rebuke to Saudi Arabia today by passing a bill from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to cut off military aid for the Saudis’ use in the Yemen war, and a non-binding resolution from Republicans that blames Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Today was a victory for the Constitution and the separation of powers,” Lee said. “With this vote, we are one step closer to reviving our constitutional framework — where the power to declare war lies with Congress, not the executive branch — and we have taken a step towards removing ourselves from the spread of human suffering in Yemen.”
The bill 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 of passing the cloture vote.
The final tally today was 56-41, with GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) not voting.
All of the nays were cast by Republicans; crossing over to vote in favor of the bill were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).
Sanders said the vote marked the day when “we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventurism”
“A bipartisan majority spoke with one voice that the status quo is over and we will no longer accept the war crimes being committed in our name,” said Murphy. “The momentum is on one side, and it’s only growing. Congress has woken up to the reality that the Saudi-led Coalition is using U.S. military support to kill thousands of civilians, bomb hospitals, block humanitarian aid, and arm radical militias.”
“The Saudis are important partners, but they need to realize that our partnership is not a blank check for them to fund extremists and murder civilians,” he said.
It’s unclear when the House would plan to take up the bill, or if it will be on the agenda before the end of the year. If House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) lets it slide, the Democratic majority in the 116th Congress is sure to resurrect the legislation.
The Senate also passed by voice vote a GOP resolution stating that “the United States-Saudi Arabia relationship is important to United States national security and economic interests” yet the kingdom is “engaged in concerning behavior, including its conduct in the civil war in Yemen, apparent detention of the Prime Minister of Lebanon, undermining the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council, expulsion of the Canadian ambassador, suppression of dissent within the Kingdom, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
It adds that “misleading statements by the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi have undermined trust and confidence in the longstanding friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and says “such erratic actions place unnecessary strain on the United States-Saudi Arabia relationship, which is an essential element of regional stability.”
The Senate, states the resolution, “believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was concerned about some of the language in the resolution but ultimately backed it since it blamed Khashoggi’s death on the crown prince.
“Let’s take stock of Saudi Arabia’s contributions to regional stability. It seems a fitting time to ask if an approach that involves bullying another U.S. regional partner, holding the prime minister of Lebanon hostage, torturing female activists, business executives, and other princes, and carrying out a military campaign in Yemen that will result in the death of millions more civilians by year’s end is an approach in line with U.S. values or U.S. priorities,” Menendez said on the Senate floor.
He noted that as for Mohammed bin Salman “calling for a return to ‘moderate’ Islam, the Anti-Defamation League reports that Saudi state television hosted several hour-long programs this Ramadan featuring a preacher who has called for God to ‘destroy’ the Christians, Shi’ites, Alawites, and Jews.”