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Senate vote to advance Yemen bill is rebuke to Trump

November 28, 2018

The Senate leveled up one of its harshest rebukes to date of President Trump’s foreign policy Wednesday, voting overwhelmingly to advance a resolution that could halt American support for Saudi Arabia’s ongoing war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

The 63-37 vote forced the bill out of committee and tees it up for floor action next week.

The vote came just hours after Mr. Trump had dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis to plead with the Republican-led Senate not to embrace the measure, saying it would do “immense damage” to U.S. interests in the region and leave Iran in a stronger position.

Pulling back U.S. weapons, air and intelligence support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen would also do nothing to alleviate a spiraling humanitarian crises that has been generated by the war there, Mr. Pompeo warned lawmakers during a briefing on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning.

But the warning did little to change minds in the Senate, where the resolution to curtail U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign has been picking up support in the wake of the Oct. 2 killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi government hit team.

“We sent an important message today that Congress will stand up to Saudi leadership when the Trump Administration won’t,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat. “We must cease support for this war never authorized by Congress that has taken thousands of lives and finally demand accountability for the Saudi regime’s continued human rights abuses.”

Both Democrats and a number of Republicans, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, have questioned whether the Trump administration took a strong enough posture against the Saudis, following reports that the CIA had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s death.

Pulling U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, the lawmakers have argued, would send a clear message about Washington’s frustration with the Crown Prince.

With that in mind, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on Wednesday voted to discharge from the Foreign Relations Committee a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee, Utah Republican; Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent; and Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat.

The bill invokes the War Powers Resolution, a 1973 law that gives congress the power to direct the president to remove U.S. forces from overseas “hostilities” if there has been no clear declaration of war.

The bill now faces another procedural vote next week, and then would be open to amendments ahead of final passage.

Even if it cleared the Senate it would still need approval of the House unlikely, given the short time left before Congress is slated to adjourn for the year and would also need approval of the president, who is likely to veto it.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Mr. Pompeo told lawmakers that, “all we would achieve from an American drawdown is a stronger Iran and a reinvigorated [Islamic State] and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

“Try defending that outcome back home,” he said.

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