Anger at the human cost of the Yemen war and outrage over Jamal Khashoggi's murder are prompting a harder line in the US Congress with the Senate greenlighting a vote that could end US military support for Riyadh's war in Yemen.
In a rare break with President Donald Trump, the Senate voted on Wednesday to move ahead with a resolution to end US military support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in the war in Yemen and lawmakers vowed to push for sanctions against the kingdom in the new year.
Eleven of Trump's fellow Republicans joined Democrats to provide the 60 votes needed to advance the war powers resolution in the Republican-led chamber.
Senators voted 60-39 to open debate on the Yemen resolution, signaling there is enough support to win the 50 votes needed. But it's unclear how amendments to the measure could affect the final vote, which is expected to come on Thursday.
The bill was sponsored by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders took the floor on Wednesday to drive debate on the resolution.
The vote paved the way for a full debate and vote on US involvement in a conflict that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, many of them young children and left millions more at risk of starvation and death by disease.
The nearly unprecedented break the 11 Republicans made with Trump was largely symbolic because the House of Representatives is not expected to take the matter up this year.
The war was a showpiece foreign policy move orchestrated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, whose supporters in Washington include the president and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Anger over weak or no US response
Backers of the resolution said it sent an important message that lawmakers are unhappy with the humanitarian disaster in Yemen and are also angry about the lack of a strong US response to the killing of journalist and bin Salman critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey by a hit squad sent from Riyadh.
Supporters of the bill in both houses and both parties are vowing to keep pushing after the new Congress takes office in January for 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.
Graham's sentiments were similar to those of US Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal who spoke with TRT World's Sally Ayhan.
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 fighters viewed by Yemen's neighbours as agents of Iran.
Pompeo defends handling of Khashoggi case
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday again defended the administration's handling of Khashoggi’s killing.
Pompeo repeated his assertion there was no direct evidence linking bin Salman to the October 2 murder of Khashoggi in Istanbul, despite a CIA assessment it was likely that the crown prince ordered the hit.
Riyadh initially denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s disappearance or fate after he entered the consular building, then offered a series of contradictory explanations, including that he was killed in a rogue operation.
Trump condemned the slaying 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, several House members said they had not heard anything to change their minds about where ultimate responsibility lay for Khashoggi's death.
Trump has threatened a veto of any attempt to censure or move against the kingdom.