Angered by the Trump Administration’s reaction to the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, as well as the official U.S. response to the involvement of Saudi leader Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud in that killing, the Senate on Wednesday ignored requests from the White House and voted 63-37 to start debate on a plan which would stop U.S. military aid going to the Saudis in support of that nation’s war in Yemen.
The move came just a few hours after top Trump Administration officials had come to Capitol Hill and asked Senators not to proceed on the measure, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters the Senate debate was ‘poorly timed,’ arguing it would undermine ongoing peace efforts.
“It is the view of the administration, Secretary Mattis and myself, that passing a resolution at this point undermines that,” Pompeo said.
But Senators in both parties brushed off the pleas of Pompeo and the Defense Secretary.
“Yemen is now experiencing the worst humanitarian disaster in the world,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who spearheaded the effort to have the Saudi aid debate.
“We need to send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that the US will take action to stem the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
“This debate is overdue,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who accused the Saudis of ‘gross human rights violations.’ “The indiscriminate violence in Yemen by the Saudi coalition demands that we reevaluate our assistance.”
After the initial vote to start debate, it was clear that the last ditch effort by Pompeo and Mattis to stave off the Senate action had fallen flat.
“We have a problem here,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the outgoing Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said it’s time for the Congress to send a clear message to the Saudi regime.
“Thus far, the administration has been unwilling to do it,” Corker added, as a number of Republicans defied the White House and joined with Democrats to begin this debate.
Senators in both parties also harshly criticized the Trump Administration for not having the CIA Director help brief lawmakers at today’s closed door session.
“Not having Gina Haspel, the CIA Director, at this briefing is a cover-up to a critical question,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), referring to the murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
“I wish she would have been there,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said of Haspel. “A lot of us were frustrated that she wasn’t.”
The vote came a day after the President’s National Security Adviser ridiculed the idea that he needed to listen to the tape of Khashoggi’s killing, as John Bolton said he wouldn’t understand what was going on, since he doesn’t speak Arabic.
“I mean, if they were speaking Korean, I wouldn’t learn any more from it either,” Bolton told reporters at the White House.
Haspel has reportedly listened to the tape – one reason Senators wanted to hear from her.