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A Senate Vote Signals That An End Is Coming To US Support For Saudi Arabia — If Not Now, Then Next Year

“I’m never gonna let this go.”

Last updated on December 13, 2018, at 3:23 p.m. ET

Posted on December 12, 2018, at 8:29 p.m. ET

Zach Gibson / Getty Images

The Senate voted Thursday for an end to US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen in what was the strongest rebuke yet to President Donald Trump’s policy toward Saudi Arabia since Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October.

The legislation is largely symbolic for now — the House voted Wednesday to effectively prohibit discussion of Yemen for the rest of this congressional session, meaning the Senate legislation will not be considered and will not be sent to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature or, more likely, his veto.

But an end for US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is almost certain to pass in the new Congress that convenes in less than a month, when Democrats will control the House. In a matter of minutes after the Senate vote, Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, announced via a spokesperson plans to reintroduce a resolution on the matter come January.

And Senators from both parties made it clear Wednesday that this was the beginning, and not the end, of their fight against Trump’s policy on Saudi Arabia.

The bill to withdraw US support for Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen was sponsored by Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah. It passed 56-41 Thursday afternoon.

The Senate also adopted by voice vote a non-binding resolution supporting a diplomatic solution in Yemen and condemning Khashoggi's killing.

Another bill introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana who’s been advocating a check on Saudi action on Yemen since March of 2017, is awaiting action in committee. That bill would place sanctions on Saudi Arabia and suspend arms sales. Among its cosponsors is Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and a staunch Trump ally who has broken with the president on whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.

Graham voted against the motion to proceed on the bill to pull US support for the war in Yemen on Wednesday — he said he didn’t favor the legislation because it would use the War Powers Act as a vehicle to change US relations with Saudi Arabia. But Graham said that, come January, he would back the Menendez–Young bill, which would not only suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia but impose sanctions on top-ranking Saudi officials.

Menendez said that he intended to use Congress’s control over appropriations and arms sales to win votes for the ban on arms sales. “I intend to use everything I can in an effort to get votes on this legislation,” he said at a news conference Wednesday evening.

“We will find a way, a process, a procedure to make sure we get a vote” on the bill to impose sanctions and suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia — something Trump has described as central to US–Saudi relations. That sentiment was echoed by Graham, who has been critical of Trump’s defense of Prince Mohammed, despite a CIA assessment that Khashoggi was likely murdered at Mohammed’s direction.

“Saudi Arabia has to change,” Graham said at the same press conference as Menendez, calling the crown prince a “wrecking ball” and the US–Saudi relationship in its current form “more a burden than an asset.”

“I’m never gonna let this go,” said Graham, once a defender of the US–Saudi relationship, “unless things change.”


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