Senate Votes To End U.S. Support For War In Yemen, Rebuking Trump And Saudi Arabia A bipartisan resolution directs the administration to end military assistance to the Saudi-led conflict. It draws on the Vietnam-era War Powers Act, marking the first debate on this war authority.

Senate Votes To End U.S. Support For War In Yemen, Rebuking Trump And Saudi Arabia

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Senate is expected today to pass a resolution demanding the U.S. end its support for Saudi Arabia's ongoing war in Yemen. The bipartisan effort is being viewed as a rebuke to Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration even though the Republican-led House is not expected to follow suit. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said about the Senate debate that he spent years defending the Saudi regime, but now...

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: Enough is enough. So to our friends in Saudi Arabia, you're never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless things change. And it's up to you to figure out what that change should be.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Detrow joins us now from the Capitol. And Scott, first of all just remind us about U.S. activities in Yemen. What's been going on?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Yeah, this started under the Obama administration. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran had gotten involved in an ongoing civil war in Yemen, and it's become a proxy war of sorts. So for several years, the United States has supported Saudi efforts - refueling planes during airstrikes and providing intelligence and strategic support. And this has become a real humanitarian crisis.

So for more than a year, a handful of senators from both parties have pushed to use this congressional power to force the U.S. to end its support. This has been led by Republican Mike Lee of Utah, Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who I spoke to earlier today.

BERNIE SANDERS: What we're talking about is in the last three years alone as a result of the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemen civil war, 85,000 children have already starved to death. Millions more face starvation.

DETROW: So they've been trying to get this vote for a while, but they've had a hard time getting there. And in fact, it came up for a vote earlier in the year in March, and it failed. Only 44 senators supported it.

CORNISH: What was the turning point then for senators who didn't support it then but do now?

DETROW: A couple of things happened. First of all, the war just got more brutal. The humanitarian crisis surrounding it deepened. And Chris Murphy says one big turning point was the Saudi bombing of a school bus of children this summer. But the biggest change was the killing of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA believes this was done at the order of Saudi Arabia's crown prince. Sanders says that is what made the difference.

SANDERS: And I think that exposed to the world what this regime is about. And then people began to ask, why we are allied with a Saudi-led war in Yemen which is killing children? Maybe it's time to rethink that.

DETROW: So there was a real bipartisan anger in the Senate at not only that killing but at the Trump administration's slow response, the president's dismissal that Saudi Arabia played a role in it. And this really came to a head when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stonewalled the Senate in a bipartisan briefing that came just a few hours before a preliminary vote on this measure, which ended up passing by a wide margin.

CORNISH: So what happens next, especially if, as we mentioned, the House is not likely to take it up?

DETROW: So this is probably it for now. This session of Congress ends in just a couple of weeks, and the Republican leaders in the House have made it clear they're not going to bring this up for a vote. But Sanders and Murphy say they will push again next year when Democrats control the House of Representatives.

And this is being seen as a key turning point for the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship. The Trump administration has already said it's going to end those refueling missions, and this is going to be followed by a broader Senate resolution condemning Saudi Arabia. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to support that even though he's opposing today's resolution.

And there could also be a broad sanctions bill coming up either at the end of this month or early next year in the new Congress. Bob Corker is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he says the United States-Saudi Arabia relationship has likely been damaged for years to come because of all of this.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow. Scott, thank you.

DETROW: Thank you.

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