Senate votes to defy Trump on Yemen, setting up eventual veto
By Daniel Flatley
The Senate voted to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen as some Republicans joined Democrats in a rebuke of President Donald Trump over his response to the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The administration has threatened a veto.
The resolution, approved 54-46 on Wednesday, would direct the president to remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities in or affecting that country within 30 days unless authorized by Congress. The House, which adopted a slightly different version in February, is expected to take up the Senate version in the coming weeks.
The action came a day before Thursday’s scheduled Senate vote on a House-passed resolution to block Trump’s national emergency declaration to pay for a wall on border with Mexico. That resolution is likely to receive enough Republican votes to pass, and Trump has said he will also veto it.
These would be the first vetoes of Trump’s presidency, as Republicans in Congress have generally been reluctant to oppose the president. Yet neither measure appears to have enough Republican support to override a veto, in part because the president remains popular with GOP voters.
Yemen resolution co-sponsor Bernie Sanders of Vermont noted that the Senate also approved the measure in December, but the House — then controlled by Republicans — didn’t take it up.
“Yemen is now experiencing the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet” as a result of the war, Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said on the Senate floor shortly before the vote. “And today, equally important, we can finally begin the process of reasserting Congress’ responsibility over war making.”
The Pentagon in November yielded to criticism and stopped providing midair refueling for planes in the Saudi-led coalition, but it continues to offer targeting intelligence.
“Our country has actually made the crisis worse,” said Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the Republican co-sponsor of the measure. The U.S. tells the Saudis “what to bomb, what to hit, and what and who to take out,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he opposed the resolution, calling it “unnecessary and counterproductive” and arguing that it would make it harder to bring an end to the war because it would reduce U.S. diplomatic leverage in the region.
“We should not use this specific vote on a specific policy decision as some proxy for all the Senate’s broad feelings about foreign affairs,” said McConnell of Kentucky.
The vote is one of several in recent months challenging Trump on foreign policy. McConnell pushed an amendment to a package of defense bills in January that reinforced U.S. support for the fight against the Islamic State and al-Qaida in Syria and Afghanistan after Trump said he would withdraw forces there.
On the same day it passed the Yemen resolution in December, the Senate unanimously assigned blame for the Khashoggi killing to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and columnist for The Washington Post, was strangled at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and his body was dismembered, the city’s chief prosecutor has said.
Trump has sought to emphasize the importance of the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia while insisting that it’s uncertain whether Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi killed.
Senate Republicans are also pushing for increased sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the president vetoes the Yemen resolution.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and staunch ally of the president, has introduced a bill to impose additional sanctions against Saudi Arabia and block some arms sales to that country. The measure is co-sponsored by Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Graham said in an interview Tuesday he sees “growing momentum” for legislation to sanction Prince Mohammed despite the Trump administration’s stance.
“What Menendez and I have are sanctions against MBS individually. I think there’s a lot of support for that, but I haven’t seen really any change from the administration,” Graham said. “There will eventually be a vote on this somewhere because there’s just too much interest.”
(Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.)
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