WASHINGTON, DC — The Senate on Thursday passed a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, ratcheting up pressure on President Donald Trump who has aligned himself with the Saudi kingdom in the aftermath of the brutal killing.
Just prior to passing the resolution by a voice vote, the Senate also overwhelmingly approved a resolution by a 56-41 vote that would require the US to end its military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a move aimed both at ending that war and expressing anger at the Trump administration’s handling of relations with Saudi Arabia.
All told, it amounted to the most significant break within Congress toward Saudi Arabia in decades — and the firmest response from Capitol Hill since the Khashoggi murder in October. But Republican leaders in the House may put a halt to the push and ultimately side with Trump.
The vote on the Yemen resolution reflected the frustration senators from parties have with the vast human suffering from the war and President Donald Trump’s embrace of the crown prince despite widely accepted evidence from US intelligence agencies that he ordered the killing of Khashoggi.
The resolution condemning the crown prince, introduced by Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, serves as an implicit rebuke of the President’s own response to the death of Khashoggi and is one of several legislative efforts to target the crown prince and the Trump administration’s policy toward Saudi Arabia.
Resolution condemning the Khashoggi murder
If the Corker resolution also passes the House, it will land on Trump’s desk and force him to make a choice: Sign it and side with Congress or veto it and side with the Saudis.
Asked if Speaker Paul Ryan supports bringing up this resolution for a House vote next week, the Wisconsin Republican’s office was noncommittal. “The House isn’t back in session until Wednesday but we’ll keep you posted,” said AshLee Strong, the speaker’s spokeswoman.
The resolution states that the Senate “believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi” and “calls for the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure appropriate accountability for all those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had urged senators not to vote for the Yemen resolution and instead urged support for the Corker resolution, which he said “does a good job capturing bipartisan concerns about both the war in Yemen, and the behavior of our Saudi partners.”
Republican senators emerged from a classified briefing on the Khashoggi murder earlier this month suggesting that there was little doubt that the Saudi crown prince should be held responsible.
“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intrinsically involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a critic-turned-ally of Trump’s, at the time.
The President, however, has steered clear of blaming the Saudi leader.
“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump told Reuters on Tuesday in an Oval Office interview.
Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, utilized the War Powers Act to attempt to force an end to US involvement in the war, even as GOP leaders argued it wasn’t necessary because the US was not directly involved in combat and had stopped refueling war planes from Saudi Arabia and other countries in its coalition.
Despite the broad support in the Senate, the GOP-led House is not expected to take a vote on the resolution, meaning it will die at the end of the year when the current congressional session ends.
Sens. Lee, Sanders and Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, held a news conference later in the day touting the passage of the Yemen resolution.
“What we did today is basically say that the United States Congress is sick and tired of abdicating its responsibility — constitutional responsibility — on matters of war,” Sanders said.
Lee added that his job as a US senator is “jealously guarding the power that is lodged in the legislative branch of government to declare war. That is significant, and that fight is worth fighting. It is an authority worth jealously guarding.”