Political News

Key Senate Republican says 'there's a lot of momentum' on Saudi rebuke

Posted December 6, 2018 10:42 a.m. EST

— Key senators from both parties privately huddled Thursday to try to reach a bipartisan deal taking aim at Saudi Arabia for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a move that would implicitly rebuke the White House's handling of the situation.

The senators -- Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee, Todd Young of Indiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrats Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Chris Murphy of Connecticut -- were aiming to strike a deal that could curtail US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, suspend arm sales with Saudi Arabia and punish the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for Khashoggi's murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

They discussed how to move forward on three separate proposals: One by Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mike Lee of Utah and Murphy to curtail US involvement in the war in Yemen; one by Young and Menendez to sanction individuals blocking aid to victims of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and people responsible for Khashoggi's death as well as to suspend arms sales between the US and Saudi; and a bipartisan resolution officially blaming the crown prince for the journalist's brutal murder in October.

"There's a lot of momentum," Corker declared after the morning meeting to determine how to move forward with all three plans. He said he wants to set a committee meeting early next week to vote on some the bills -- namely the Young-Menendez measure -- in his panel before floor action. "We don't have any hurdles; I can't imagine leaving on a higher note."

"Not everyone supports every effort, but I would like all of the efforts to have a hearing," said Corker, who is retiring at year's end and is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But there are still some disagreements among the group. Graham is concerned with the Lee-Sanders-Murphy measure because of "legal theory problem with what they're doing but I certainly support the idea of stopping our aid to the war in Yemen." He said he's looking at other language that "can do more."

Adding to the complications: Because of the unusual nature of the Lee-Sanders-Murphy measure, the sponsors can call it up for a vote at any time without the consent of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But doing so would open up the measure to what's known in the Senate as a vote-a-rama, allowing members to offer any amendment on any subject they want, something the leaders of the effort are eager to avoid.

"We are trying to figure out how to send the strongest message without blowing up the Senate floor for a week," Murphy said.

But to avoid an unwieldy Senate debate, they'll have to cut a bipartisan deal on the process and the policy -- with time running out before the end of the session and with a potential government shutdown around the corner.

"There is a way to land both of those products by the end of the year," Murphy said. "A vote on the Lee-Sanders-Murphy resolution is a very tough message to Saudi Arabia that the relationship is changing, and you can interpret that as a message on the Yemen war but you can also interpret that as a message on Khashoggi. I don't think you have to get too fancy."