After more than two years of nearly nonstop toadyism, the GOP-controlled Senate showed some spine over the past 24 hours. Whether this is a sign of greater independence from President Trump, mired in scandal and with few legislative accomplishments, remains an open question.
The Senate voted Wednesday to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, its latest rebuke of the Trump administration’s continued embrace of the Saudi monarchy despite growing frustration among lawmakers with its actions on the world stage.
The 54-to-46 vote marks the second time in recent months that the Senate has rejected the United States’ continued participation in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, waged in the name of holding back Iran’s expansion in the region. But the Saudi-led effort, which has at times targeted civilian facilities and prevented aid shipments from getting to Yemenis, has been faulted by human rights organizations for exacerbating what the United Nations has deemed the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.
Trump has only himself to blame for this turn of events. His Middle East policy is adrift, his subservience to the Russians makes him look increasingly like a second-rate player. He treats the Saudis with kid gloves, which also diminishes his influence.
Had the administration not insulted our intelligence and savaged our values by supporting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s denial that he was involved in the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Senate may not have revolted. The Senate previously rebuked the administration after it infuriated lawmakers with disingenuous briefings about the murder. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo convinced no one and in the process lost any credibility on the topic of Saudi relations.
Coincidentally, on the day of the vote the State Department released its human rights reports. The report on the Saudis enumerated its abuses including Khashoggi’s murder and failure to prosecute all involved, even as the report itself did not point the finger at MBS. It’s that sort of move that makes us an international laughingstock and drains Trump of what remains of his credibility with Congress.
All of this sets the stage for possibly a greater humiliation for Trump when the Senate votes to terminate his emergency declaration. Depending on how many Republicans join with all the Democrats, the vote could provide a stunning rebuke to a president who once inspired fear even among his allies. An overwhelming vote would confirm that, bit by bit, his power drains away.
Given how lackluster Trump’s agenda is and how inept his diplomacy is, he may well have no remarkable achievements other than confirmation of judges for the remainder of his term. He’ll be spending most of his time in a defensive crouch screaming via tweet that he is a victim, trying to simultaneously maintain the pretense that he is winning. No, this is what losing looks like.