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- A handful of senators flipped their votes to support advancement of invoking the War Powers Resolution, which had been the result of an increasingly deteriorating relationship between Congress and Saudi Arabia.
- The advancement of the resolution passed 63-37, with 14 Republicans joining all the Senate Democrats.
- Senators are putting together different proposals to respond to the Saudis in a more forceful way than the Trump administration has.
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers’ views of the Saudi Arabian government are at an all-time low, which came into full force on Wednesday when enough senators rebuked the Trump administration’s policies by advancing a resolution to end the US involvement in the war in Yemen being spearheaded by the Saudis.
The move to invoke the War Powers Resolution did not come easy. The Senate failed to move forward on the same resolution last March. But the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen, coupled with the Saudi’s apparent murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi – which President Donald Trump has largely dismissed – started changing minds on both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, told reporters on Thursday that the Trump administration’s poor handling of everything involved had accelerated matters.
“I prefer these things to be handled by the administration,” he said. “So far that’s been lacking.”
And the unprecedented move to assert such congressional authority is aggravating White House officials.
“This is new territory,” Corker said. “This hasn’t been done in the past and I want to do everything I can to ensure that this is handled in a dignified manner.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham joined the bipartisan group out of pure anger at the lack of explanations from the administration. While lawmakers received a briefing from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, they wanted more, specifically a rundown from CIA Director Gina Haspel.
“I changed my mind because I’m pissed,” Graham told reporters. “I don’t agree with what [Lee, Murphy, and Sanders] are doing. I don’t think the War Powers Act is one, constitutional, two, the aid we provide to Saudi Arabia and Yemen would require an authorization to use military force. Having said that, the way the administration has handled the Saudi Arabia is just not acceptable.”
On Thursday, Graham said he had been informed he would receive a briefing from the CIA at some point next week.
How the Democrats who were previously opposed were converted
Since the failed March vote, the resolution offered by Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders and Chris Murphy, who are joined by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, has gained steam and attracted previous no votes. The Wednesday vote showed a sea change of 18 Democrats and Republicans flipping their positions.
One Democratic aide to a senator who flipped their vote described Senate Armed Services ranking member Jack Reed getting on board as “a game changer” that pulled in the Democrats who opposed it last time.
Other Democrats cited the information they learned inside the briefing as the catalyst for switching their position. In total, 18 senators changed their votes.
Still, there is work to be done on the issue, as most Republicans would prefer to take another route. Options on the table are still unclear, but senators are working on proposals that could send a stronger message to the Saudis than anything the White House has done.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who opposed the resolution, reiterated to reporters Thursday they will still need to address Saudi Arabia, but through other means.
“I certainly don’t think the resolution is the right answer to how to handle this. But it should be handled,” he said. “We have to do something about what happened with Khashoggi and about recalibrating our relationship with the Saudis. But the Yemen resolution is the wrong way to do the right thing.”