Skip to main content

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to give House members a classified security briefing on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen on Capitol Hill on Dec. 13, 2018.

J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

In back-to-back votes against Saudi Arabia, the Senate delivered an unusual rebuke of President Donald Trump’s response to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and signalled new skepticism from Capitol Hill toward the long-time Middle East ally.

Although the resolutions are largely symbolic – because it’s unclear if they will be considered by the House – passage Thursday showed senators seeking to assert oversight of Trump administration foreign policy and the relationship with Saudi Arabia.

It also marked the collapse of the Trump administration’s effort in the Senate to contain fallout from the gruesome killing.

Story continues below advertisement

One measure recommended that the United States end its assistance to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen. The other put the blame for the death of Mr. Khashoggi squarely on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Both had been vigorously opposed by the Trump administration and threatened with a presidential veto. Top brass was on Capitol Hill ahead of voting to prevent further action in the House.

“The current relationship with Saudi Arabia is not working,” said South Carolina’s Senator Lindsey Graham, who opposed the Yemen resolution but called the crown prince “so toxic, so tainted, so flawed” after Mr. Khashoggi’s killing that “you’re never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless things change.”

The bipartisan votes came two months after the Saudi journalist’s slaying at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and after Mr. Trump persistently equivocated over who was responsible. U.S. intelligence officials concluded that the Crown Prince must have at least known of the plot, but Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised the kingdom.

Senators made clear where they put the blame. The resolution, passed by unanimous agreement, says the Senate believes the crown prince is “responsible for the murder” and calls for the Saudi Arabian government to “ensure appropriate accountability.”

Senators voted 56-41 to recommend that the United States stop supporting the war in Yemen, a direct affront to the administration’s war powers abilities.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who co-sponsored the Yemen resolution with Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, called passage a “historic moment.”

Mr. Lee said Mr. Khashoggi’s death focused attention “on the fact that we have been led into this civil war in Yemen half a world away” and “we’ve done so following the lead” of Saudi Arabia.

Story continues below advertisement

“What the Khashoggi event did was to demonstrate, hey, maybe this isn’t a regime that we should just be following that eagerly into battle,” Mr. Lee said.

As Senate approval loomed, the administration dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to the House to make the case against the resolutions and warn of damage they could do to the U.S.-Saudi relationship. A congressional aide and an administration official said their appearance was aimed at stopping any House action on the resolutions.

Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Mattis had made a similar entreaty to the Senate late last month. But it was roundly panned by senators angered by the secretaries’ refusal to accept a CIA determination that assessed the crown prince had ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.

CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders Wednesday on the Khashoggi slaying.

The journalist, who had lived in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate for marriage paperwork.

Saudi prosecutors have said a 15-man team sent to Istanbul killed Mr. Khashoggi and then dismembered his body, which has not been found. Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Mr. Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Trump has been reluctant to condemn the crown prince. He said the United States “intends to remain a steadfast partner” of the country, touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the United States and thanked the Saudis for plunging oil prices.

But Mr. Graham and Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, have rejected Mr. Trump’s economic arguments. They are setting the stage for legislation next year that goes further in halting arms sales and taking other measures.

Mr. Menendez says economic concerns do not overpower human rights and the United States must send a “global message that killing with impunity” will not be tolerated.

Frustration with the Crown Prince and the White House prompted several Republicans to support the Yemen resolution. Seven Republicans and all Democrats voted for it. Some already had concerns about the war, which human rights groups say is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians, many of them children, to deadly disease and indiscriminate bombing.

The resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for Mr. Khashoggi’s slaying was from Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Both Republicans opposed the Yemen resolution and voted against it.

Mr. McConnell said senators have grave concerns about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, but “we also want to preserve a 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region.”

Story continues below advertisement

But Mr. McConnell encouraged passage of the Mr. Khashoggi resolution and said it provided “a clear and unambiguous message about how we feel about what happened to this journalist.”

The Senate debate came as the United Nations secretary general on Thursday announced that Yemen’s warring sides have agreed to a province-wide cease-fire and withdrawal of troops in Hodeida, a contested Red Sea port city. The agreement came during peace talks in Sweden.

The brutal four-year-old civil war pits the internationally recognized Yemeni government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, against the Iran-backed rebels known as Houthis.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter