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Senate Gears Up for Unpredictable Debate on Saudi Arabia and Yemen

CIA Director briefed key senators on Khashoggi killing Tuesday

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., is among the chief advocates for the Yemen resolution. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., is among the chief advocates for the Yemen resolution. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate is gearing up for a potentially unwieldy debate over U.S. policy regarding Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and a Tuesday briefing for key senators from the CIA chief did nothing to thwart that.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told Roll Call Tuesday afternoon that interested parties would be meeting on Wednesday to try to find an agreement on handling the contentious Yemen resolution.

The Tennessee Republican said that with the schedule changes necessitated by the funeral of President George H.W. Bush, floor debate would most likely come up on Monday, Dec. 10.

The first vote would be on a motion to proceed to the joint resolution that seeks to stop U.S. support for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.

Corker was among the senators who participated in a briefing earlier Tuesday with CIA Director Gina Haspel about the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He emerged saying that, “if the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes.”

That was referring to the culpability of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder, which took place inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Senators including Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., still want Haspel to brief the entire Senate on the matter.

The war in Yemen and the broader issue of the behavior of the Saudi crown prince are not entirely related, and that will be the case that senators opposing the War Powers measure are sure to make when the floor debate takes place. Supporters of the resolution, like Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, are optimistic about the prospects of at least getting it pending on the floor.

“This debate’s moving forward. The motion to proceed’s going to pass, and we’re going to be in a brave new world,” the Connecticut Democrat told Roll Call on Tuesday. “I think there’s a lot of interest in trying to push aside amendments to get to the final vote as quickly as possible on our side of the aisle, and you know, all we need is a little support from Republicans.”

Under the expedited procedures in effect for the resolution, only a simple majority of senators is required to adopt the motion to proceed.

After the briefing with Haspel, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham was only more convinced of the crown prince’s involvement.

“There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw,” Graham said. “You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intricately involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi.”

Graham also said he would offer a sense of the Senate measure that names the crown prince as responsible for the murder of Khashoggi and that he would not support further arm sales to the kingdom until all individuals complicit in the murder “have been brought to justice.”

But Graham said he would not support the joint resolution that would cut off military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Murphy was not surprised when faced with the possibility that GOP senators might offer a “sense of the Senate” nonbinding amendment.

“There are lots of Republicans who are going to try to water this down, but they’ll have to find 50 votes, and I’m not sure that they have 50 votes for a substitute. I can foresee a circumstance where a bunch of amendments might be voted down and at some point, [Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s] got to move to a vote on the underlying resolution,” Murphy said.

Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.

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