Senators are planning to vote this week on a measure to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, shortly after two Cabinet officials head to Capitol Hill to brief them on the situation — a briefing House members say they are being denied.
The expected vote on a measure to invoke the War Powers Resolution — likely to take place Wednesday or Thursday — will be the first test of whether the slaying of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has broken Congress’s long-standing pattern of prioritizing the sanctity of the U.S.-Saudi alliance through weapons sales and other cooperative military ventures over repeated, documented human rights violations.
Key senators are hinting they are done turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s transgressions, even if President Trump is still sticking by Saudi leaders.
“I’ve laid in the railroad tracks in the past to keep us from blocking arms to Saudi Arabia,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Monday. “I’m in a real different place right now as it relates to Saudi Arabia.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are scheduled to speak to senators Wednesday about Saudi Arabia’s continued engagement in Yemen’s civil war, as well as last month’s killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. But many senators, including Corker, are dissatisfied that CIA Director Gina Haspel will not be present at the briefing.
Thus far the White House has also refused to schedule a similar session with the House, according to Republican and Democratic aides in that chamber. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The CIA recently assessed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman almost certainly directed Khashoggi’s killing — an assessment Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay as he has defended the crown prince’s denials.
Lawmakers of both parties have been growing increasingly angry with Trump for siding with Saudi leaders over his own intelligence officials. For a group of senators, that frustration presents an opportunity to end U.S. military, intelligence and air support for Saudi Arabia until it ceases military activities in Yemen amid the worsening humanitarian crisis there.
This March, 44 senators voted in favor of an effort to invoke the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition. Sponsors of that legislation said over the weekend that they were sure that this time they could amass enough support to clear the 50-vote hurdle to pass such a resolution on the Senate floor.
Corker, who voted against the resolution in March, would not say specifically how he planned to vote this week. But the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who voted against the measure in March, indicated Monday that he would support it if it came up this week.
Menendez said he thinks that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is “determined to make it happen.”
Corker also hinted that support for ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia had grown significantly since March — possibly enough to carry such a measure across the Senate floor.
“We need to keep the relationship with them because they are a country that’s semi-important — at the same time we don’t need to condone multiple bad acts by them,” Corker said. “I have a pretty good gauge on how people feel about Saudi Arabia right now, and I would say we’re in a very, very different place than when we kept this from happening last time.”
Should a majority of senators vote in favor of the resolution on the heels of a briefing by Cabinet officials, it would be a stark political rebuke of Trump, who has downplayed bipartisan demands for increased sanctions and punitive measures in favor of boosting the importance of lucrative weapons deals with Riyadh.
His statements have inspired criticism from Republicans and promises from Democrats to investigate whether Trump has personal financial motivations in refusing to cross the Saudi crown prince when they take over the House majority next year.
But even if the bill survives an expected vote this week, it would probably still have to clear many hurdles in the Senate before it could be taken up by the House, where stiff political obstacles remain.
Earlier this month, House GOP leaders blocked independent efforts to vote on a similar measure invoking the War Powers Resolution with an unorthodox rules change that simply nullified certain expedited procedures of the War Powers Resolution for that specific piece of Yemen legislation.
Erica Werner contributed to this report.