The US Senate has delivered its strongest rebuke of President Donald Trump yet by voting to end American involvement in the Yemen war and voting unanimously to hold Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The resolution to withdraw military support from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, passed by a vote of 56 to 41, underlines the growing divisions between Congress and the White House. The bill was supported by Democrats as well as Republicans. An additional paragraph denouncing Bin Salman was inserted by US Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker, the representative from Tennessee.
He has been one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s handling of the Khashoggi affair, especially following a CIA briefing last week, which concluded that the Crown Prince authorised the journalist’s murder two months ago in Istanbul. Earlier this week, Corker said that he expected the Senate to take measures against the Saudi government over the murder and its ongoing military campaign in Yemen, where 20 million people are said to be facing starvation.
The motion states that the US Senate “believes Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.” Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top lawmaker in the Senate, said that this sends a “clear and unambiguous message” to Saudi Arabia.
Members of the Congress described the Kingdom as having “joined a sinister clique along with North Korea, Russia and Iran.” According to Robert Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey and a member of the foreign relations committee, “A few more weapons purchases cannot buy our silence — it should not buy our silence, and if the president will not, Congress must act.”
In terms of the war in Yemen, Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chair of the senate intelligence committee, was reported by the Financial Times as saying that the US “should be clear” that it would not provide “unconditional assistance” to the Kingdom’s operations in its southern neighbour. “The Senate must send a message that America’s moral voice will not be diminished,” he added.
Despite the overwhelming support for the resolution, it is not expected to pass through the House of Representatives, which will be controlled by the Republicans until January, after which the Democrats will hold the majority. Nevertheless, analysts at the Washington Post noted the significance of the vote. The bill was described as the start of a more “robust debate about [our] Middle East relationship and what both Democratic and Republican lawmakers see as overreliance on the Saudis.”
Journalists from the Post also cited comments by the executive director of Freedom House on the Senate’s vote regarding Khashoggi. “Freedom House is heartened by today’s unanimous vote in the Senate to reaffirm the principles of press freedom around the world and to state what the evidence has clearly shown — that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is directly responsible for the brutal murder of a journalist who had been critical of the Saudi regime,” said Michael Abramowitz. “We would strongly urge the House of Representatives to follow suit and condemn Mohammad Bin Salman’s appalling violation of human rights and freedom of the press.”
Abramowitz concluded that, “The vote underscores that it is past time for the administration to re-evaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia to ensure that it serves the interests of the United States as well as citizens in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East.”