Last week, the U.S. Senate sent a symbolic but nonetheless strong message — both to an important strategic partner, Saudi Arabia, and to the executive branch.
The Senate passed two resolutions: One that reasserts Congress’ constitutional powers to declare war and one that calls out Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi while calling for a diplomatic solution in Yemen.
Both resolutions were tied to Yemen’s ongoing humanitarian crisis and the role that U.S.-partner Saudi Arabia has played in the devastating proxy war between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels supported by Iran. Pressure on and criticism of the Saudis have mounted as violence and starvation has rocked Yemen.
After years of conflict, with thousands dead and millions facing “severe food insecurity” according to the United Nations, the Senate voted 56-41 on a resolution led by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
The resolution directs President Donald Trump to “remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaida or associated forces” and to do so within 30 days, unless a declaration of war is made.
Though made with mostly Democratic support, this vote is still a significant rebuke of U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen — support that began under the Obama administration and has continued under Trump. The resolution identifies aerial targeting assistance, intelligence sharing and midflight aerial refueling as some of the American support thus far in the conflict.
Both of Maine’s senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, helped make the necessary, if not delayed, assertion of America’s moral authority by voting yes on the resolution.
“The passage of this resolution sends a strong message in defense of American values that the U.S. will not tolerate Saudi Arabia’s abhorrent record on human rights,” Collins, one of only seven Republicans who voted for the measure, said in a statement after the vote.
“This is a humanitarian disaster, and the United States should no longer be complicit,” King said in his own statement. “That’s why I’ve voted to end our limited support for the Saudi-led coalition, and why I continue to urge all parties to seek a diplomatic solution to end this bloodshed that is hurting so many innocent people.”
The Sanders-Lee resolution, which likely won’t see the light of day in the current House of Representatives and would almost certainly face a Trump veto, remains an important signaling of American values — not only to the Saudis, but to the Trump Administration.
The strength of that message is bolstered by a second, non-binding resolution the Senate passed without opposition that same day — one that acknowledged in no uncertain terms that the Senate “believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi” and “calls for the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ensure appropriate accountability for all those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.”
The Senate’s assessment through that resolution stands in stark contrast to Trump’s statement on Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi and the crown prince in November.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in the statement.
Sen. Bob Corker, a retiring Tennessee Republican who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee and has not always seen eye-to-eye with the president, introduced the second resolution and said its passage “speaks to the values that we hold dear.”
“I’m glad the Senate is speaking with one voice, unanimously toward this end,” Corker said after the unanimous voice vote.
Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who acknowledged “a bit of a thicket here [in the Senate], with different points of view” and who opposed the Sanders-Lee resolution, called the Corker resolution a “clear and unambiguous message.”
These resolutions won’t solve the complex, evolving humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where a recent U.N.-negotiated cease-fire seems to hang in the balance on a daily basis.
By speaking up, however, the Senate has sent a message to both Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration that America must still be guided by respect for the Constitution and for human rights.