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Senate rebuffs Trump with vote cutting off U.S. support in Yemen

Yemeni fighters from the Popular Resistance Committees, supporting forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, march past portraits of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in Taiz on Monday. | Ahmad Al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images

Congress

Several Republicans joined Democrats to build a bipartisan majority for the measure.

Updated

The Senate on Wednesday gave President Donald Trump’s foreign policy yet another vote of no-confidence, approving a resolution to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s bloody civil war.

Seven Republicans joined all members of the Democratic Caucus in backing the bill, which senators viewed as an opportunity not only toreassert Congress’ authority to declare war, but to rebuke the Trump administration over its posture toward Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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“I think Republicans are just growing thin with Trump’s foreign policy, and they are more willing now to break with him now because they see his foreign policy getting more bizarre as time goes on,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a chief sponsor of the Yemen War Powers resolution, said in an interview.

The White House has dispatched top Pentagon and State Department officials to Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers that the U.S. should remain involved in the conflict — but to no avail, as the War Powers measure will soon reach the president’s desk. Trump has already threatened to veto it.

The Yemen vote comes a day before the Senate is set to pass a resolution of disapproval formally admonishing Trump over his recent national emergency declaration. Four Republican senators have already pledged to vote for the resolution, and at least half a dozen more are considering it. The president has promised to veto that resolution, too.

Despite his stated goal to bring American troops home from war zones around the world, Trump has long opposed the Yemen War Powers effort, arguing that U.S. presence in the region is critical for counterterrorism operations and pushing back on Iran. The Saudi-led coalition has been battling Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in a civil war that has spurred a humanitarian crisis on the ground.

“This war is a humanitarian and a strategic disaster,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another leader of the anti-war effort.

The House passed a similar measure last month, but it was blocked from getting a vote in the Senate after the parliamentarian ruled that one of the amendments — a Republican-led effort to condemn anti-Semitism — was not “germane” to the legislation, effectively killing it.

House Democratic leaders intend to hold a vote on the Senate-passed version, setting up a presidential veto.

A handful of Republicans voted for the measure in December in an effort to send a message to the Trump administration about its Saudi policies and give the president a chance to reset the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship. But Republicans still broke with the White House on Wednesday, indicating that the administration has done little to assuage their concerns.

“It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not an ally that deserves our unwavering, unquestioning, unflinching support,” said Utah Sen. Mike Lee, the lead Republican sponsor of the War Powers resolution. “It is not an ally that deserves our support or our military intervention.”

Chuck Schumer

In advance of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged senators to oppose the measure, calling it “unnecessary,” “inappropriate” and “unproductive.”

“Pulling the plug on support to our partners only undermines the very leverage and influence that we need to help facilitate the U.N.’s diplomatic efforts,” McConnell said. “The U.S. will be in a better position to encourage the Saudi-led coalition to take diplomatic risks if our partners trust that we appreciate the significant, legitimate threat they face from the Houthis.”

While McConnell acknowledged that it was “completely understandable” for lawmakers to have concerns about the war, he said senators should raise their concerns about the administration’s Saudi policies directly with senior officials.

McConnell has tried to contain his fellow Republicans who have openly fumed about the administration’s response to Khashoggi’s October murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Those frustrations reached a tipping point last month when the administration said it would not comply with senators’ request under the Magnitsky Act to determine who is responsible for Khashoggi’s grisly killing.

Lawmakers have said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in Khashoggi’s murder. Others have gone further, suggesting based on intelligence briefings that the crown prince ordered the killing.

But the president has backed up the kingdom’s claims that the crown prince had no involvement, and he has resisted congressional attempts to punish Saudi Arabia while defending U.S. weapons sales to Riyadh.

“This administration doesn’t give a crap about human rights, and it’s unacceptable to Republicans and Democrats,” Murphy said.

John Bresnahan and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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