Colorado's Senators Vote To Condemn Saudi Crown Prince, Split On Yemen Withdrawal

Dec 11, 2018

Editor's note: This is a developing story and may be updated.

Updated Dec. 13, 2018 at 3:10 p.m. — In a voice vote, the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying he is responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. The measure was introduced by Bob Corker and cosponsored by Colorado Republican Cory Gardner.

Just prior to that vote, senators voted 57-38 on a resolution that would end U.S. military involvement in Yemen, the country torn by a civil war and humanitarian crisis, where Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition against Houthi rebels. Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet voted for the measure and Gardner voted against it.

Statements from the senators follow.

Bennet:

We are without a strategy to address the persistent conflict, humanitarian crisis, and threats to U.S. interests in Yemen. By passing this resolution, we are sending a strong, bipartisan statement that the Trump administration must take the required steps to formulate one. The tragic and extraordinarily complex situation in Yemen requires a political solution. The administration has failed to lead and must do more to push all regional interests to the negotiating table.

It's also critical to stress how inadequate the President's response to the death of Jamal Khashoggi has been, in effect legitimizing his murder and failing to stand up for press freedom. The administration must hold Saudi Arabia accountable.

Gardner:

Any individual involved with the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, including the Crown Prince and his close associates, should be held accountable and face severe consequences. The United States cannot be silent on this blatant violation of human rights, and no individual should be exempted from just punishment under U.S. law.

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I joined my colleagues to trigger the investigations and sanctions against the Saudi government, which already resulted in the designation of 17 Saudi individuals under U.S. law that were found to be culpable in Mr. Khashoggi's murder. I will support additional sanctions in this regard, should the United States identify others responsible under U.S. law and move to impose additional penalties.

United States has vital security interests in the Middle East, and none greater than countering radical Islamic terrorism, including the malign activities of the Iranian regime - the world's largest state sponsor of terror. I will not vote for any measure that will jeopardize the safety and security of the American people from those who wish to do us harm.

If Secretary Mattis and our military leaders decide in the future that the very limited assistance the United States provides to Saudi Arabia in the Yemen campaign is no longer necessary to advance U.S. national security interests, I will respect that decision. Otherwise, any move to cut off this assistance without a national security rationale will only serve to embolden our enemies.

The original story continues below.

It's been a week since Lindsey Graham emerged from a closed-door CIA briefing and said he was convinced Saudi Arabia's crown prince had orchestrated the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"There's a smoking saw," the South Carolina senator said, a reference to the bone saw allegedly used to dismember the murdered Khashoggi's body.

Colorado's senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, haven't said anything as headline grabbing, but they are in step with Graham and other senators -- and at odds with President Trump.

They both want accountability. The big question is what that will look like.

After the briefing, Gardner spoke with fellow Republicans, including Graham as well as Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who leads the foreign relations committee on which Gardner sits. Like Graham, Corker said he had no doubts that the crown prince ordered and directed the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.

Gardner told KUNC the Senate should stand up for U.S. values.

"It's what we believe in and we're going to make sure that anyone around the world, including our allies, are held responsible for violations of human rights," Gardner said.

One possible course of action, according to Bennet's office, is a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 54. It directs the president remove military support from Yemen, where the Saudis are leading a coalition against Houthi rebels. The bill, introduced by Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has 18 cosponsors, including one Republican.

Bennet, a Democrat, was in the 63-37 majority to advance that bill in a vote last month. Gardner was not.

Gardner said U.S. involvement in Yemen should not be withdrawn over Khashoggi because it would harm U.S. interests in the Middle East.

"Let's hold Saudi Arabia, let's hold MBS (Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman), let's hold those responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi -- let's hold them accountable," Gardner said. "Let's punish them. Let's sanction them, but I, for one, am not going to let terrorism regain a foothold against the United States."

He may get the opportunity to vote for something along those lines. Corker is planning to introduce a resolution that would say the crown prince was responsible for Khashoggi's death, denouncing him -- pitting senators against Trump, who has been supportive of the Saudi regime , according to The Hill.

Many senators, including Bennet, have already voiced their concerns with Trump's position.

"As the world's oldest democracy, we must reclaim our leadership in protecting press freedom," Bennet tweeted on Nov. 20. "@POTUS' dog-whistle, distraction approach is not just dangerous & irresponsible. In this case, it helps validate a murder & could lead to more violence against members of the media."

On Tuesday news broke of peace talks to end the civil war in Yemen, where the death toll has reached into the tens of thousands.

The Saudis have sought support for their intervention in Yemen since Resolution 54 was proposed back in February. Lobbyist disclosure forms show Denver's Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck firm met with Senate staffers, made calls and sent emails to discuss the Yemen resolution in the first six months of the year. The firm also emailed members of Congress to invite them to a dinner with the crown prince.

Bennet wants the CIA to present what it knows to the full Senate. That hasn't happened. Instead, a clearer picture of Khashoggi's alleged assassination is emerging from news organizations.

The latest comes this week from CNN, which published what it says is a transcript of the Oct. 2 murder at the Saudi embassy in Turkey. It states that Khashoggi screamed and gasped, and says "I can't breathe," were his last words. The transcript then indicates that a saw was heard.