Procedural Vote Advances Debate on US Role in Yemen, Additional Vote to Occur Next Week
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today voted in favor of discharging a resolution from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to the Senate floor on the U.S. role in Yemen. The Senate advanced S.J.Res.54 by a vote of 63 to 37. Next week, absent a unanimous consent agreement, the Senate will hold a second procedural vote on the resolution. If agreed to, the Senate will then debate and potentially amend the resolution before a final vote would occur.
Corker’s remarks on the Senate floor prior to the vote follow.
“Mr. President, I rise to speak of the issue before us. And I too have on every occasion done what is necessary to keep us from alienating an ally, Saudi Arabia.
“I think I was the last man standing here under the Obama administration in trying to make sure that that the JASTA bill at the time ended up being corrected in such a manner that it wouldn’t have unintended consequences. Did so unsuccessfully. But on multiple occasions have stood with others to make sure that we did not block arm sales and that we did not do those things that might undermine our relationship.
“Let me walk through for those who are tuning in what the process is. Today we have a vote on discharging this piece of legislation out of the foreign relations committee. That is all that is happening today. There’s an executive calendar where we have cloture votes pending on nominees. That will burn off. And sometime next week, after this is discharged today, if it is so successfully, there will be another vote to actually proceed to this bill.
“If we proceed to the bill, then what happens is a series of amendments are voted upon, and then there’s another vote at the end of that as to whether people actually support the product that is created.
“So, I just want to make it clear today what I’m not doing today is voting for the substance that is before us. I reserve the right to do so. But I’m voting on our ability to have a debate as it relates to our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
“We had a briefing today that was very unsatisfactory, but [given] by two people I highly respect. Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo are two people that I work closely with and admire greatly. I found their briefing today to be lacking. I found that in substance we’re not doing those things that we should be doing to appropriately balance our relationship with Saudi Arabia between our American interests and our American values.
“There’s been a lot of rhetoric that’s come from the White House and from the State Department on this issue. The rhetoric that I’ve heard and the broadcasts that we’ve made around the world as to who we are have been way out of balance as it relates to American interests and American values.
“As I said this morning in the [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility], where we were having this briefing, I hope that in the ensuing few days, maybe this afternoon, the administration themselves will take steps to rectify this balance in an appropriate way.
“As to whether the Crown Prince was involved in this killing, it’s my belief that he was. It’s my belief that he ordered it. I don’t have a smoking gun. But what I do know is that he is responsible for this agency that carried out the killing. He has done nothing to show ownership over what has happened. And that is an affront, not just to the American people, but it's an affront to the world.
“The administration, in their broadcast, in their referring to this issue, has been way out of balance as it relates to what is important to us, buying arms from us and neglecting this other piece and not demarshing the leadership of Saudi Arabia in an important way.
“So, what I’m doing today is I am voting to discharge out of our committee this bill. There will be another opportunity next week to decide whether we proceed to it.
“As I said to the administration again this morning, it’s my hope that they will figure out a way to bring American interests and American values into balance, and they can cause a Saudi Arabian government to take appropriate ownership over what has happened in the killing of this journalist. That, to me, would be the best solution. If not, we’ll have another decision to make, and that will occur next week as we decide whether we want to proceed to that, and then after that, proceed to dealing with the issue of Saudi Arabia. Then there will be another point in time where we can decide whether we like the substance that may be created in an amendment process going through this.
“So, today I do support… discharging this piece of legislation so that this body can have a fulsome debate about our relationship with Saudi Arabia, what has happened with the journalist, and the important issue of the war in Yemen, and all the things that we need to be doing as a country to counter what Iran is doing in the region.
“With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.”
In a letter to President Donald J. Trump last month, Corker and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, triggered an investigation and Global Magnitsky sanctions determination regarding the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post. Corker and Menendez sent a second letter demanding the administration make a determination specifically addressing whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. The first letter did not specifically name the Crown Prince.
Under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, the president, upon receipt of a letter from the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, must make a determination and is authorized to impose sanctions with respect to a foreign person responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights violations against individuals who seek to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote human rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression.