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Senate passes measures hitting Saudis on Khashoggi killing, Yemen

Tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels attend a gathering

Tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels attend a gathering to show their support for the ongoing peace talks being held in Sweden, in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Credit: AP/Hani Mohammed

WASHINGTON — The Senate unanimously approved a resolution Thursday blaming Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and then voted to call for the end of U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The two resolutions represent not only a rebuke of Saudi Arabia, but also a slap at President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump and Pompeo have continued to support the Saudi intervention in Yemen and have accepted the crown prince’s denial that he was not involved in Khashoggi's death, despite the CIA conclusion that he directed the killing.

"Every single Senator across both parties just joined together to condemn the murder of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi and hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted. "President @realDonaldTrump can no longer ignore this egregious murder."

The White House did not respond to a request for a reaction to the Senate resolutions, including a historic first use of the War Powers Act since it was enacted 45 years ago to limit the president's ability to initiate or escalate military actions. 

A joint resolution with the House sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) passed 56 to 41, after rejecting two amendments offered by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) intended to eviscerate the measure. One lost in a voice vote, and the other in a 54-45 roll call vote. 

The Senate then passed by voice vote a joint resolution sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for Khashoggi's murder.

The measure also raised concerns about the Saudi government’s behavior in its role in the Yemen war, the detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other actions.

The House, however, appears unlikely to take up the resolution after its Republican leaders on Wednesday added a provision to the farm bill rule to make it hard to hold a vote on the Senate resolution if passed. That rule squeaked by in a 206-203 vote after Democrats attacked it for including that provision.

The House appeared to be divided on the resolution. On Thursday, Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed House members in a closed session, a day after CIA Director Gina Haspel gave them a briefing.

Many senators have expressed outrage at the death of Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post and criticized the Saudi regime. He was killed when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to complete paperwork to get married.

The Senate cleared the way for consideration of the resolutions with a 63-37 procedural vote Wednesday.

Sanders lauded his colleagues for their expected support of the resolution to end U.S. involvement in “the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen which has caused the worst humanitarian crisis on earth with 85,000 children already starving to death.”

With the resolution, Sanders said, “We will tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventurism” and also will tell “the president of the United States, any president, Democrat or Republican, that the constitutional responsibility for making war rests with the United States Congress, not the White House.”

Defending Trump and Pompeo’s defense of Saudi Arabia, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) warned the resolution would have unintended effects, saying it would affect U.S. operations with allies beyond the Saudi-led coalition.

“Members of this chamber assert that this resolution is confined to Yemen and sends a strong message to Saudi Arabia. I disagree with that,” Cornyn said. “This resolution also sends a message to our allies that questions the reliability of the U.S. as a partner.”

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