Resolutions Set To Limit U.S. Involvement In Yemen
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A majority of the United States Senate finally found the Trump administration going a little too far to protect the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: The way the administration's handled the Saudi Arabia event is just not acceptable. The briefing today did not help me at all.
INSKEEP: That's South Carolina's Lindsey Graham after the defense secretary and the secretary of state came to the Senate to defend the Saudis. The administration did not bring along Gina Haspel, the CIA director. The CIA is the agency that linked the crown prince to the killing of a journalist, a link that President Trump prefers not to believe. The frustration was the backdrop for the Senate vote on a different issue. Lawmakers took a step toward ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
NPR's Tim Mak is covering this story. He's here. Hey there, Tim.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.
INSKEEP: So what would it mean if this resolution that took a preliminary step in the Senate yesterday passed both houses of Congress?
MAK: OK. So the Senate resolution is a bipartisan bill. It would direct the President to remove U.S. military forces from the hostilities in and around Yemen except for those operations directed at al-Qaida. And it actually passed in the Senate with what we could call pretty overwhelming support. It passed 63-37. It's a very narrowly divided Senate. And you just kind of to look at the lead cosponsors on this bill.
You have, on the one hand, conservative Mike Lee. On the other hand, you have self-proclaimed Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. And they agree on this. They voted on this issue despite public and private pleas from Pompeo not to proceed with it because he said it would undermine future peace talks.
INSKEEP: Let's remember what it is that they're trying to limit here. The Saudis intervened in a Yemeni civil war. It has become a humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of people are said to be malnourished or troubled in various ways inside Yemen. And many people have even starved to death. Haven't senators been frustrated about this for quite some time, the fact that the United States has been giving some support to the Saudis?
MAK: Yeah. This resolution was voted on actually in March, but it failed to pass this initial procedural hurdle that it's now passed. The killing of Khashoggi in October seems to have changed the calculations of some lawmakers. And you'll find that the folks who support it now say there's no need for the U.S. to be helping the Saudis in this conflict. And Congress hasn't authorized military force in this case.
INSKEEP: Didn't Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, though, go to the Senate yesterday, and at least in his remarks outside when he was talking to reporters, he said, hey, come on. The Saudis are not that implicated, not as implicated as you think.
MAK: Yep. Pompeo said, firstly with regards to Yemen, that it's in America's interest to be involved. But with regards to the killing of Khashoggi, the secretaries that went up to brief said that the intelligence they reviewed did not implicate the crown prince directly. Here's Pompeo.
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MIKE POMPEO: There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi.
INSKEEP: Leaving us to work through the semantics there - no direct reporting. And yet we know from our own reporting that the CIA has concluded the crown prince was involved. And I guess the senators didn't get to hear from the CIA directly about which version was actually true.
MAK: It's actually - that is the basis for a lot of the frustration that is in the Senate and may have been one of the reasons why this briefing backfired yesterday. Lawmakers were really upset the CIA director was not there to brief them on these intelligence matters. In order to make a well-informed decision on this vote, they have to understand the underlying intelligence about whether Saudi Arabia was involved and whether and how to punish them if that's the case.
Couldn't the president, the White House have told the CIA director to show up? Well, that's the thing about it. A lot of senators told reporters that the White House was directly involved in blocking Gina Haspel from coming and briefing them on this issue.
INSKEEP: And so now the Senate has taken this step, although it is a preliminary one. Tim, thanks so much.
MAK: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.