Rep. Adam Schiff (right), D-Calif., in line to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, speaks to reporters at the Capitol before a classified briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel to the House leadership about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the involvement by the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Washington, Dec 12, 2018. (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP)
WASHINGTON - Senators are expected to vote Thursday on a resolution that would call on the US to pull assistance from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a measure that would rebuke Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Senate may also consider a separate resolution condemning the journalist's killing as senators have wrestled with how to respond to the Saudi journalist's murder. US intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known of the plot, but President Donald Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame.
In a rare break with Trump, the Senate voted 60-39 on Wednesday to open debate on the Yemen resolution, signaling there is enough support to win the 50 votes needed. Eleven of Trump's fellow Republicans joined Democrats in the vote. It is, however, unclear how amendments to the measure could affect the final vote, which is expected to come Thursday.
The Senate voted 60-39 on Wednesday to open debate on the Yemen resolution, which would call on the US to pull assistance from the Saudi-led war in Yemen
The nearly unprecedented break the 11 Republicans made from Trump was largely symbolic because the House of Representatives is not expected to take the matter up this year. Trump has threatened a veto.
But backers of the resolution said it sent an important message that lawmakers are unhappy with the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, and angry about the lack of a strong US response to the killing of Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers also vowed to keep pushing after the new Congress take office in January for further tough action against Saudi Arabia, including legislation to impose human rights sanctions and opposition to weapons sales.
"If you want to buy our weapons, there are certain things you have to accept. How you use them matters," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told a news conference.
"The individual, the crown prince, is so toxic, so tainted, so flawed, that I can't ever see myself doing business with Saudi Arabia unless there's a change there," said Graham, generally a close Trump ally in the Senate.
Republicans will hold a slightly larger majority in the new Senate, but Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives, increasing the chances of sanctions legislation passing.
The Trump administration had urged Congress not to oppose US fueling, targeting help and other support for the Saudi-led coalition as it battles the Houthis, Shi'ite Muslim fighters viewed by Yemen's neighbors as agents of Iran.
Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the administration's handling of Khashoggi's killing.
Pompeo repeated his assertion there was no direct evidence linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the Oct 2 killing of Khashoggi in Istanbul, despite a CIA assessment it was likely he ordered the killing.
Riyadh initially denied knowledge of Khashoggi’s disappearance, then offered contradictory explanations, including that he was killed in a rogue operation.
CIA Director Gina Haspel leaves the Capitol after giving a classified briefing to the House leadership about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the involvement by the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec 12, 2018. (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP)
TRUMP STANDS BY CROWN PRINCE
Trump condemned the murder but has stood by the Saudi crown prince. "He's the leader of Saudi Arabia. They've been a very good ally," Trump told Reuters on Tuesday in an Oval Office interview.
Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel briefed leaders of the House of Representatives behind closed doors about the killing. After the classified meeting, House members said they had not heard anything to change their minds about Khashoggi's death.
Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, likely the next chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee when Democrats take control of the House in January, said he intended to hold hearings starting early next year on all aspects of Saudi behavior and the US-Saudi relationship.
"Saudi Arabia's an important ... partner, but I don't think we can simply look the other way when things happen and talk about business as usual," Engel said.
Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who held a separate briefing for the entire Senate, are due to discuss Saudi Arabia with the entire House on Thursday.
But several lawmakers have urged that Congress keep the Yemen conflict separate from anger over the killing of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist.
They view Saudi Arabia as an essential counterweight in the Middle East to Iran, arch-enemy of close US ally Israel. White House officials see Saudi support as a linchpin for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan yet to be unveiled by the Trump administration.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday in Jerusalem that Saudi Arabia's role in the Middle East must be taken into account in responding to Khashoggi's "horrific" fate.
"If Saudi Arabia were to be destabilized, the world would be destabilized," Netanyahu told foreign reporters, speaking in English.
With inputs from AP
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