After being briefed by CIA director Gina Haspel about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi Tuesday, Senate leaders were adamant that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing and that the United States has to respond in a meaningful way.
“If he was in front of a jury he’d be convicted in thirty minutes: Guilty,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told reporters after the briefing. “So the question is, what do we do about that?”
Republican Senator Rand Paul told The Globe Post Wednesday that there’s an ongoing battle in the Senate over the best course of action with three main proposals being debated.
The three proposals, Paul said, are blocking U.S. military support for the Saudi war in Yemen, blocking arms sales, and passing a “sense of Senate” resolution condemning the killing of Khashoggi without changing any U.S. policy towards the Kingdom.
A resolution introduced by Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders and co-sponsored by Republican Mike Lee that seeks to end U.S. support for the Saudi-coalition’s military efforts in Yemen was advanced out of the Foreign Relations Committee last week – a step that in itself was a historic assertion of Congressional war powers.
According to the United Nations, Yemen is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. A recent study estimates that at least 85,000 children have died of extreme starvation as a result of the war and experts warn that millions more are at risk of suffering the same fate if fighting continues.
The U.S. has played a key role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in the conflict in 2015.
Sanders said that he expected the next vote on the resolution – the final step before the bill would be opened up to amendments – would be held this week.
But Paul said Wednesday that Republican leaders have pushed the vote back and that he expects it won’t be held until next week.
“Technically, I think they can try to hold it up and have no vote on it … But I think there will be a vote next week,” Paul said at a conference sponsored by the Fund for American Studies.
“I think what they’re trying to do now is they’re trying to get enough people to flip to vote for a meaningless ‘sense of the Senate.’”
But even if most of the 14 Republicans who initially voted to advance the resolution flip against it, Paul said he’s confident the measure may still advance.
“If the Democrats stay firm – there’s 49 of them, plus Mike Lee and myself, which would be enough,” he said.
But Senators including Paul, Sanders, Lindsey Graham, Todd Young, and Chris Murphy have said stopping U.S. support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen isn’t enough, suggesting the Senate should block future arms sales to Saudi Arabia as both a punitive measure and a means of gaining leverage to influence the Kingdom’s behavior.
Lindsey Graham: Saudi Arabia's crown prince is a "wrecking ball" who's "complicit in the murder" of Jamal Khashoggi to the "highest level possible."
"Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally and the relationship is worth saving, but not at all costs." Via ABC. pic.twitter.com/0gnWIA2ka3
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 4, 2018
Saudi Arabia is one of the largest purchasers of American weapons. President Donald Trump has said he opposes blocking arms deals because it would cost American defense manufacturers $110 billion, though experts say the actual figures are much lower.
After Tuesday briefing, Graham – a top ally of Trump – said he won’t support any future arms deals as long as bin Salman rules Saudi Arabia, calling the crown prince “crazy” and “dangerous.”
The Senator also blasted the Trump administration for what he said has been a “weak” and inadequate response to Khashoggi’s murder.
“I would imagine if they were in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia,” he said.