In back-to-back votes against Saudi Arabia, the US Senate delivered an unusual rebuke of President Donald Trump’s response to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and signalled new scepticism from Capitol Hill toward the longtime Middle East ally.
Although the resolutions are largely symbolic — because it’s unclear if they will be considered by the House — passage 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.
One measure recommended that the US end its assistance to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen. The other put the blame for the death of 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 Lindsey Graham, who opposed the Yemen resolution but called the crown prince “so toxic, so tainted, so flawed” after the 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.
US intelligence officials concluded that bin Salman must have at least known of the plot, but 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 US stop supporting the war in Yemen, a direct affront to the administration’s war powers abilities.
Bernie Sanders, who co-sponsored the Yemen resolution with Mike Lee of Utah, called passage a “historic moment.”
Lee said 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.
“What the Khashoggi event did was to demonstrate, hey, maybe this isn’t a regimen that we should just be following that eagerly into battle,” 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 US-Saudi relationship.
A congressional aide and an administration official said their appearance was aimed at stopping any House action on the resolutions.
Pampeo and 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 Khashoggi’s murder.
CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders on Wednesday on the Khashoggi slaying.
The journalist, who had lived in the US and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regimen.
He was killed in what US 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 Khashoggi and then dismembered his body, which has not been found.
Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate.
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 US and thanked the Saudis for plunging oil prices.