Commentary & Community

Senate Advances Anti-Saudi Resolution

President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress usually agree on legislative issues. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, however, there is a growing rift between the president and members of Congress from both parties. That was never more evident in a recent Senate vote on a resolution over U.S. military involvement in Yemen.


With the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian forces and increasing evidence of atrocities by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni civil war, members of Congress are breaking with President Trump’s support for the Saudi regime. They are pushing for a stronger response to these Saudi actions, steps that President Trump has so far resisted.


In response, the Senate voted 63-37 to bring a resolution to remove all U.S. military support from Saudi forces fighting in Yemen. From the text of Senate Joint Resolution 54:


Congress hereby directs the President 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 Qaeda or associated forces, by not later than the date that is 30 days after the date of the adoption of this joint resolution … and unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces has been enacted.


Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, sponsored SJ Resolution 54. It has 18 cosponsors from both parties. This resolution notes that U.S. military personnel are involved with aiding the Saudi government in aerial targeting, intelligence, and other military activities in Yemen.


The Trump Administration has pushed back against withdrawing U.S. military assistance, saying that it is necessary to fight terrorism. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argues that weakening the U.S.-Saudi alliance would only strengthen Iran. Those who support the resolution say that the U.S. should not be aiding forces that kill civilians and commit other war crimes. They also note that there has been no declaration of war on Yemen or even an authorization to use U.S. military force in this conflict.


Some senators, such as Rand Paul of Kentucky, have long been pushing the Senate to act against Saudi Arabia. These efforts gained support with the weak reaction by President Trump to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Senators have requested that CIA Director Gina Haspel brief them on the murder, but she has yet to appear. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, has said he will not support the president on any major votes until this briefing occurs.


The timetable for debating the Yemeni resolution is still unclear. The lame duck session of Congress will continue through December.


Do you think that the U.S. should stop assisting the Saudi military’s actions in the Yemeni civil war?


Flake Pushes for Bill to Protect Mueller Investigation

President Trump continues to attack Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Fearing that the president may pressure the acting attorney general to fire Mueller, Senator Jeff Flake is working to pass legislation in the lame duck session of Congress that help shield Mueller from the president's wrath.


The ire that President Trump feels for Robert Mueller is evident to anyone reading the president’s Twitter feed. In one recent tweet, for instance, the president wrote, “The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite. He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other.”


As an employee of the Justice Department, Mueller could be fired by the attorney general. Some observers say that President Trump asked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign in order to do this. Matthew Whitaker is now serving as the acting attorney general.


In April, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) introduced S. 2644, legislation that would place some limits on the ability of the attorney general to fire a special counsel. This bill is co-sponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).


Senator Jeff Flake has announced that he will not support confirmation of any of the president’s judicial nominees until the Senate considers S. 2644. If all the Democrats support the bill and the Republicans who have cosponsored it do, too, then it will have a majority of senators in favor of it. First, however, it must be called up and placed on the Senate calendar. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell controls what legislation is put on the calendar, and there is no indication that he wants to spend time in the lame duck session considering this bill.


If Senator McConnell does bring the bill up for consideration, it would still face a filibuster threat. If the bill overcame that threat, it would then go to the House of Representatives and then, upon passage, be presented to the president for his signature. President Trump seems unlikely to sign such a measure.


While there is little chance that S. 2644 will become law, Senator Flake and others are pushing for its consideration to discuss the importance of protecting the Mueller investigation. If Sen. McConnell does not allow this debate to happen, he may find it difficult to confirm any federal judges during the remainder of the lame duck session.


Do you support legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s investigation? Do you agree with Sen. Flake’s refusal to vote in favor of any of President Trump’s judges until the Senate debates legislation to protect Mueller?