WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday voted to advance a resolution seeking removal of the U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen — signaling growing disenchantment in Congress with Saudi leadership, fueled in part by the recent murder of a Saudi-born columnist for the Washington Post.
“The Saudis are our ally, but we don’t blindly support our friends when their values and interests conflict with ours,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D), who sponsored the bipartisan resolution and spoke on the floor before the roll call vote. “The Saudi war in Yemen has gone off the rails and their disregard for human life has become impossible to ignore.”
The Senate voted 63-37 in favor of the resolution co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republican Mike Lee of Utah, with every Democrat in favor. Republicans backing the resolution included Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The Republican opponents included Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. In March, the Senate voted to scuttle the same resolution by a 55-44 margin. As an indication of turning opinion, Murphy noted that just two years ago, only 27 Senators supported a far narrower measure to block a single arms sale.
The Senate vote paves the way for a resolution to invoke the War Powers Act to block further military support for the Saudi-led conflict to be debated as soon as next week.
Concern has grown in the Senate over continued U.S. military involvement in the Yemen conflict, which the United Nations has called a humanitarian disaster. Adding to congressional concern is the conclusion from U.S. intelligence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely ordered the October killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
Senators received a closed-door briefing on Saudi Arabia from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today, but CIA Director Gina Haspel was absent from the room.
Mattis and Pompeo reportedly defended the need to continue U.S. support for Saudi Arabia.
Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a longstanding vocal opponent of the Yemen war. After Khashoggi was killed, Murphy renewed his call for suspension of military support for the Saudi-led campaign, writing in an an op-ed in the Washington Post that the journalist’s death should “trigger a fundamental review of the nature of the United States’ alliance with the Saudis.”
“Reports indicate that Saudi Arabia dispatched a hit squad that brazenly abducted and murdered Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul — simply because he regularly criticized his government in public. The Saudis have issued blanket denials and refused to provide any evidence to the contrary, arrogantly assuming they don’t owe us an explanation,” Murphy wrote. “When I came to Congress a little more than 10 years ago, support for Saudi Arabia was broad and bipartisan. But now, as the new crown prince engages in increasingly reckless behavior, more and more of us are wondering whether our ally’s actions are in our own best interests.”