The Senate Looks To End The Trump Admin’s Subservience To Saudi Arabia

In a rare bipartisan vote, the Senate clearly rebuked the Trump administration’s deference to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with then-Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman during a bilateral meeting, in Riyadh - Saturday, May 20, 2017 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Mohammed bin Salman during a bilateral meeting, in Riyadh – Saturday, May 20, 2017 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Updated December 4, 2018: CIA Director Gina Haspel has briefed a select group of Senators.

The US Senate just initiated a bill that may force the withdrawal of US support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Mike Lee (R-UT), was advanced for debate on the Senate floor by a vote of 63-37. This is the first step towards a full resolution, one which would require a similar measure in the House, a distant prospect with the current Congress, but a likely one when Democrats take over in January. The White House has already signaled it would veto any resolution, however, which would then require a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

The move comes days after the heads of five international aid agencies called on the United States to stop its military and financial support of the Saudi-backed coalition, saying it has only exacerbated the conflict that has led to the world’s worst famine in recent memory. In what may be the first time aid agencies place blame on the US government for a humanitarian crisis, the agencies castigated the Trump administration’s policies in Yemen, saying “By providing such extensive military and diplomatic support for one side of the conflict, the United States is deepening and prolonging a crisis that has immediate and severe consequences for Yemen, and civilians are paying the price.”

The US has been providing support to Saudi forces in their fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since the outset of the war in 2014 and has conducted strikes against Al-Qaeda targets before that. The Trump administration has recently called for a ceasefire and negotiations to end the conflict and even moved to end refueling of Saudi aircraft. However, it is not clear that the administration takes its role in the conflict seriously, or that it has any interest in true peace talks. Just this morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a Trump-like tweet in which he praised Saudi Arabia and placed all the blame on Iran.

The bill will also probably not do much to end the Trump administration’s steadfast protection of Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. In a largely shambolic hearing in the Senate today, with cabinet members roundly denying any link between Mr. Khashoggi’s death and MBS. The stonewalling reach absurd levels, with national security advisor John Bolton claiming there was no need to listen to a recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s murder because he didn’t speak Arabic. Notably missing from the hearings was CIA director Gina Haspel, who was barred by President Trump from testifying, yet is the only member of the administration who has purportedly listened to the tape. This has angered the Senate on both sides of the aisle. Senator Lindsey Graham, ever the Trump lackey, even said he would be withholding his vote from other important bills until the CIA briefs the Senate.

Haspel has since briefed a select group of Senators, and they came out of the briefing with a strong message.

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Global Outlook // Donald Trump / Saudi Arabia