Posts Tagged ‘Bob Corker’

Republicans plotting to oppose Trump in 2020 waiting for Mueller and June before pulling trigger

January 11, 2019

Renegade Republicans intent on upending President Trump in 2020 are keeping their powder dry, waiting to see if legal and political controversies drive him from office first.

Political operatives and potential candidates that inhabit the loose-knit community of Republicans who oppose Trump’s re-election are eyeing June as the approximate moment for deciding on a primary challenge or independent bid. It’s a strategic delay. Some Republicans think the weight of multiple investigations could motivate the president to exit the White House after one term — especially if special counsel Robert Mueller issues a politically damaging report.

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Mitt Romney

“The scenario I think we could be heading toward is Trump hitting a Mueller-induced problem where there would suddenly be several people looking at running because of the odds increasing that he won’t run again,” said Rob Stutzman, a veteran GOP consultant in Sacramento, Calif., who has had discussions with like-minded Republicans about how Trump 2020 might be derailed.

The president begins the election cycle in a position to cruise to renomination, bolstered by the overwhelming support of grassroots Republicans. But a small-but-persistent group of Republicans unhappy with his leadership remains. Some are actively attempting to recruit a credible primary challenger; others are examining the viability of an independent bid.

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Ben Sasse

The Republicans most often listed as possible Trump challengers are outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran in 2016; Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who is up for re-election next year; Sen. Mitt Romney  of Utah, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012 who was elected to his current post just last year; Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan; and former Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who sources say are unlikely to run.

Depending on the circumstances, Kasich is perhaps the most immediately prepared to mount a credible challenge to Trump, notwithstanding his prickly relationship with loyal Republicans.

But Kasich isn’t interested in waging a primary campaign that might hobble the president against the Democrats in the general election but falls short of the White House. That’s why he’s considering running as an independent. Any Kasich bid, independent or GOP, would likely rely quite a bit on New Hampshire. The governor finished second there in the 2016 primary, and his supporters in the state say he retains considerable backing for another run.

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Jeff Flake

“We would not run to be a Pat Buchanan-like spoiler. That’s not anything that the governor or we are interested in,” said John Weaver, a senior Kasich adviser. “We have an organization in place in New Hampshire that’s grown since we finished second in 2016. We have consolidated, to some degree, the anti-Trump or disparate groups around the country who are opposed to the president within the party.”

Any Trump challenger who attempted to assemble a campaign in the current environment would run into major hurdles.

PHOTO: Senator Bob Corker speaks to members of the media following a closed briefing for US senators on Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, Nov. 28, 2018. (Michael Reynolds/EPA via Shutterstock)


PHOTO: Senator Bob Corker speaks to members of the media following a closed briefing for US senators on Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, Nov. 28, 2018. (Michael Reynolds/EPA via Shutterstock)



Republican donors who might secretly root against Trump wouldn’t openly oppose him. A GOP operative in regular contact with many wealthy contributors said they wouldn’t risk angering the president and inspiring a tweet that could damage their political or business interests. However, some might give to political nonprofit organizations that, by law, don’t have to disclose donors.

Staffing a campaign also would be difficult. Republican strategists with talent and connections wouldn’t chance losing existing clients or being blackballed by official party committees. One experienced Republican consultant connected to an individual mentioned as a possible Trump challenger said he was disinclined to join a campaign that opposed the president.

“Few Republican consultants would today get involved with a challenger. But there are a few, and I’m one of them, depending on the candidate,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican consultant in Washington, D.C., whose outspoken criticism of Trump forced him to step down from a 2018 Senate campaign.

The Trump campaign is in the process of fielding a strong national organization. The safe bet is that the president runs in 2020. But some Republican operatives who are actively exploring an intraparty challenge to Trump’s leadership believe there are various paths to mounting a credible primary campaign that would imperil his re-election, despite the logistical, financial, and political roadblocks.

Some say a successful strategy might focus on states where party rules allow independent voters to participate in the GOP primary. They’re also somewhat encouraged by Republican National Committee rules that open the door for a primary challenger to win enough votes to be placed in nomination on the convention floor in Charlotte.

Nevertheless, history is not on their side. No independent or primary challenge to a president in the modern era has succeeded, though a strong showing by the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., in the New Hampshire primary in 1968 helped convince President Lyndon Johnson not to seek re-election.


Bob Corker: Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria “boggles any sane thinking”

December 23, 2018

Sen. Bob Corker, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said an abrupt withdrawal from Syria “boggles any sane thinking.

“I’m saddened for the broken relationships with countries that have been with us. I’m saddened for the many Kurds and others that likely will be killed and slaughtered by the Syrians or the Turks. I’m saddened for our country in being so unreliable,” the Tennessee Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

President Trump announced a rapid withdrawal from Syria this week, declaring victory over the Islamic State, in a move that apparently took administration officials by surprise. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, both resigned in protest over Trump’s foreign policy decision.

Corker said McGurk, accused by Trump in a Saturday night tweet of grandstanding, “did the right thing.”

“Some devastating decisions are being made even with people giving strong input in the opposite direction,” Corker said to CNN host Jake Tapper. The outgoing senator said he is trying to point out the problems with this kind of decision-making.

“I hope some way or another the president sees to make decisions that are not ultimately devastating to our country,” he said.

When challenged by Tapper about what to say to voters who are tired of having troops in Syria and Afghanistan, Corker said Syria was a low-cost way to both rout out the Islamic State and keep Russia and Iran in check and the engagement was two months away from being finished before Trump jerked the rug out from under the effort.

“I have no understanding of what we did, why we did what we did in Syria. It just totally boggles any sane thinking that could take place. Boggles it. I don’t understand it, ” Corker said.

Corker, who has been a critic of the president’s for the last year, had a meeting scheduled with Trump on Wednesday, the day Trump made the announcement he would rapidly withdraw all troops from Syria. Trump canceled the meeting while Corker was waiting in the White House.

“I think he knows that he has made a mistake. I do. The president’s tendencies are to dig in and double down even if you knows he did something incorrect,” said Corker, about that canceled meeting. “I don’t think he wanted to talk about Syria that day and so the meeting was called off.”


Bob Corker’s Final Act: A Middle Finger to Trump’s Foreign Policy

December 7, 2018

The Trump critic has set his sights on one final target: Saudi Arabia.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Bob Corker (R-TN) has just a few weeks left as a United States senator, and he’s determined to use that time to deliver one final rebuke to President Donald Trump.

Corker, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is cobbling together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in an attempt to force the Trump administration to do something that would undermine a key tenet of its foreign policy: acknowledge that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“I know he did it. I want him to be named,” a defiant Corker told The Daily Beast on Thursday, later adding: “I’d like to do something that actually has teeth.”

The crown prince’s culpability has been obvious to lawmakers who have been briefed on U.S. intelligence assessments. But such an unequivocal declaration of the crown prince’s involvement would be consequential for an administration that has invested so much political capital into its relationship with the 33-year-old de facto leader.

If successful, Corker’s crusade would amount to one of Congress’ strongest admonitions of the president, who has openly doubted intelligence assessments that, according to lawmakers briefed on the matter by the CIA, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crown prince was directly involved in the brutal assassination and dismemberment of Khashoggi as well as the clumsy cover-up that followed.

Corker’s efforts are facing stiff resistance from Trump, who according to lawmakers has not acted to hold the crown prince accountable. Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have asserted that there is no “direct evidence” linking the crown prince to the murder, and they have opposed congressional efforts to halt U.S.-Saudi cooperation on a host of issues relating to national security and counterterrorism.

On Thursday, Corker escalated the conflict, saying Trump’s refusal to outwardly condemn the crown prince was “un-American.”

The Tennessee Republican convened a meeting of GOP and Democratic senators Thursday morning in an effort to hammer out a proposal that could win enough votes in both chambers and make it impossible for Trump to block their plan to force him to officially call out the crown prince.

Corker’s actions come after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed top senators earlier this week on U.S. intelligence assessments about the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of the Saudi regime. Corker and other lawmakers said the briefing confirmed their view that there was “no question” the crown prince was directly involved in the killing.

Despite Corker’s adversarial relationship with Trump, lawmakers working with him say he’s not trying to spite the president or cement a legacy of his own; rather, they say, he wants to hold Saudi Arabia accountable in a way that the Trump administration has not.

“I think Bob is trying to find the right way to land a correction on Saudi policy that gets as many votes as possible. I don’t think that’s about his legacy,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who joined the Thursday meeting with Corker, told The Daily Beast. “I think that’s just because he thinks, on this one, the president has gone fully off the rails and Congress needs to correct [it].”

The close cooperation with Saudi Arabia has been the linchpin of the Trump administration’s Middle East policies. The White House has placed a strong focus on countering Iran’s influence in the region, and it views Saudi Arabia as a noble partner in that effort. But last week, Corker and 13 other Republicans joined all Democrats in voting to advance a measure that would cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which is fighting against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The conflict has ballooned into a humanitarian crisis, and an estimated 85,000 children have died of starvation.

Republicans hoped the vote would be a wake-up call to the White House and would force the president to punish Saudi Arabia over the killing of Khashoggi. But the White House hasn’t budged, and the Senate is preparing to push back with Corker as its ringleader.

“[Trump’s] Saudi policy is just off the rails in a way that almost no other piece of his foreign policy is. On this one, there are no Republicans that are really willing to argue his case here as they may be on some other aspects of foreign policy,” Murphy said.

One of the potential measures—the resolution that would end U.S. involvement in Yemen—is expected to get a full Senate vote sometime next week. Corker doesn’t plan to support that bill; instead, he’ll likely support an amended version of a separate measure that represents even more of a gut-punch to the Saudi regime and, ultimately, to Trump’s entire Middle East strategy.

That bill, written by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Todd Young (R-IN), would suspend all U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and would sanction entities blocking humanitarian assistance in Yemen or supporting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. It would also require the Trump administration to enact mandatory human-rights sanctions on the individuals it determines are responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.

Corker told The Daily Beast that he is hesitant to make those sanctions mandatory because he believes it would give the White House an “out” to not formally name the crown prince as the perpetrator if the president knew that such a declaration would lead to sanctions. He’s seeking to amend the Menendez-Young bill such that it would give Trump zero wiggle-room on naming the Saudi leader.

“We might be better off with permissive sanctions where they name [the crown prince],” Corker said. “Wouldn’t you rather him be named? The first thing is, I want them to name him. That itself has repercussions.”

“We know Putin has done stuff, but we don’t sanction him personally, right?” he added. “We sanction the country. So if it’s mandatory that they sanction him, then the hammer’s so heavy, the outcome would have such an effect, that they would figure out some way not to name him.”

Menendez, the chief sponsor of that bill, told The Daily Beast that the mandatory sanctions are his “holy grail,” but he appeared willing to budge on that provision if it meant the Trump administration was more likely to officially say the crown prince was complicit.

Both sides said they hope these relatively minor disagreements won’t prevent the Senate from, at the very least, adopting a separate resolution declaring in part that the Senate believes the crown prince was complicit in the murder of Khashoggi.

But Corker is aiming for something bigger, and Democrats are more than willing to play ball.

Turkish intel chief Fidan briefs US senators on Khashoggi murder

December 7, 2018

National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan held a closed-door meeting with CIA Director Gina Haspel and several U.S. Senators over Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday.

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Citing Turkish sources, the report said that the top spy briefed members of the Senate about Khashoggi’s killing upon the request of the lawmakers.

Turkish media reported that Fidan would also hold other meetings with top officials on the issue.

The reported meeting comes days after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed a select few members of the Senate about the murder.

Senators leaving the briefing said they are even more convinced that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the death of Khashoggi.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in “about 30 minutes.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who demanded the briefing with Haspel, said there is “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Khashoggi was killed two months ago. The journalist, who had lived for a time in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate for marriage paperwork.

Senators are considering multiple pieces of legislation to formally rebuke Saudi Arabia for the slaying of Khashoggi, with momentum building for a resolution to call Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman complicit in the killing.

Corker said Thursday that senators are looking at moving three measures — a resolution to condemn the crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder, a bill to suspend arms sales to the kingdom and a resolution to call on President Donald Trump’s administration to pull back U.S. help for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the crown prince must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame.

Mattis faces criticism after comments in Khashoggi case

December 7, 2018

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has enjoyed a level of bipartisan support rarely seen in Washington, is facing mounting public criticism amid the fallout from the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The fresh scrutiny of Mattis, often portrayed at home and abroad as a trusted steward of US values during the turbulent times of President Donald Trump, comes on the heels of his implementation of a controversial military order to place troops on the US-Mexico border, a move critics slammed as a political stunt.

The most vocal attack on the former Marine general came from a member of Trump’s own Republican party this week, when Senator Lindsey Graham blasted the Pentagon chief and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for refusing to directly link Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Khashoggi’s murder at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in October.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tells Pentagon reporters he has seen 'no smoking gun' tying the Saudi crown prince to Khashoggi's killing

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tells Pentagon reporters he has seen ‘no smoking gun’ tying the Saudi crown prince to Khashoggi’s killing US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tells Pentagon reporters he has seen ‘no smoking gun’ tying the Saudi crown prince to Khashoggi’s killing AFP/File

Mattis has repeatedly condemned the killing and called for those responsible to be held to account, but insisted he had seen “no smoking gun” connecting Prince Mohammed to the Khashoggi murder.

“You have to be wilfully blind” not to conclude the murder was orchestrated by people under Prince Mohammed’s command, Graham said, following a briefing to several senators by CIA Director Gina Haspel.

“There’s not a smoking gun, but a smoking saw,” Graham added, referring to the reported grisly detail that an autopsy specialist dismembered Khashoggi’s body with a bone saw.

Graham is a firebrand in US politics, and his bouts of indignation should be viewed through the prism of his own ambition. Initially a fierce Trump opponent, he converted to a staunch ally, and Washington observers say he is angling for a top posting in the administration.

– ‘I need the evidence’ –

Still, Graham was not alone in his upbraiding.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said Mattis and Pompeo have tried to “push aside” the question of Prince Mohammed’s involvement and said that when the two men spoke to senators last week they had sought to mislead lawmakers.

They “knew that there was no way this murder happened without the consent and direction of MBS,” Murphy told MSNBC, using the abbreviation for Prince Mohammed.

And Republican Bob Corker, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came to a similar conclusion, saying a jury would convict the crown prince “in less than 30 minutes.”

On Wednesday, Mattis said Graham has “the right to his own opinion” and reiterated his careful interpretation of the intel on Khashoggi’s murder.

“If I say something, I need the evidence,” Mattis said.

“We are continuing to review. I am quite satisfied we will find more evidence of what happened. I just don’t know what it is going to be or who will be implicated, but we will follow it as far as we can.”

– Border operations –

Mattis was also thrust into the spotlight last month in the run-up to the midterm elections, as Trump repeatedly attacked “caravans” of Central American migrants headed for the US border.

The president ordered a deployment of thousands of active-duty troops to beef up the frontier.

Critics assailed the move as a costly political stunt to mobilize Trump’s conservative base.

Kelly Magsamen, a senior security official for both Republican and Democratic presidents, termed the deployment “a craven political stunt by President Trump ahead of the US midterm elections.”

Magsamen, writing on the Defense One website, said that Mattis should either explain his support for the move or quit if he does not believe it warranted.

But Mattis defended the decision, saying it was not political and that the soldiers on the border are mainly providing much-needed logistical support: “We don’t do stunts in this department,” he said.

The deployment of approximately 5,600 troops is Mattis’s largest in his nearly two years at the Pentagon, and he this week approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to extend the mission through January 2019.

– ‘Complicit’ resolution –

Saudi Arabia has sought to distance Prince Mohammed from the murder and has received unbending support from Trump, who sees Riyadh as a vital security partner in the Middle East and a key oil exporter and buyer of US arms.

But US lawmakers have grown increasingly leery about American support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced a resolution that, if approved, would say the Senate “has a high level of confidence” Prince Mohammed was “complicit” in Khashoggi’s killing, and would assail Riyadh for its role in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

The Senate could also vote on a separate measure next week to force the US to end its military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Mattis’s cautious words come at a sensitive time. He must tread a fine line with Saudi Arabia as he publicly and privately pushes Riyadh to negotiate for a peace settlement with Houthi rebels in Yemen.

For his part, Trump has said “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” when asked if the crown prince knew about the plot to kill Khashoggi.

Graham suggested Mattis and Pompeo were being vague in their intelligence assessments to please Trump.

“The reason they don’t draw the conclusion that he’s complicit is because the administration doesn’t want to go down that road, not because there’s not evidence to suggest he’s complicit,” Graham said.


Senate moving ahead with plans to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi killing as US re-evaluates relationship

December 6, 2018

The U.S. Senate moving ahead with plans to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi killing as US re-evaluates relationship originally appeared on

Key Republican senators will meet Thursday morning to discuss how to proceed as many lawmakers seek to punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Several Republicans have joined Democrats in pushing for a resolution that would withdraw all U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in neighboring Yemen, and they are now pursuing other options like the restriction of U.S. arms sales to the kingdom and a “Sense of the Senate” resolution that censures Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his reported role in the murder plot.

PHOTO: A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, Dec. 15, 2014. (Niganned al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: A general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, Dec. 15, 2014. (Niganned al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close ally of President Donald Trump, said he planned to introduce that resolution on Wednesday. Graham has been an outspoken critic on this issue.

(MORE: Turkey issues arrest warrants for 2 Saudi aides over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing)

It’s not clear when that resolution could come up for a vote. While the Yemen resolution cleared a key hurdle last week, it won’t come up for a vote until at least next week, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told ABC News. The Trump administration and GOP leaders like McConnell are working to kill the bill and prevent other penalties for the Saudis as they defend America’s relationship with them.

That all sets high stakes for Thursday’s meeting as several members of Congress look to send a message to both the White House and the Saudis that it is no longer business as usual. Top Senate Republicans like Sen. Bob Corker, Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Graham are furious over what they call the administration’s stonewalling and deception on the role of the crown prince, sometimes known by his initials MBS.

PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo talks during a press conference after a NATO Foreign Ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dec. 4, 2018. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo talks during a press conference after a NATO Foreign Ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dec. 4, 2018. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis said there’s no “direct reporting” or “smoking gun” implicating the crown prince, and Trump has said the U.S. may never be able to know. But according to multiple reports, the CIA intercepted messages exchanged between the crown prince and a top adviser who led the mission while it was ongoing.

“I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince, MBS, ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening, planned it in advance. If he was in front of a jury, he would be convinced in 30 minutes — guilty,” Corker said Tuesday after being briefed by CIA Director Gina Haspel.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington has denied that, with spokesperson Fatimah Baeshen tweeting Tuesday, “At no time did HRH the Crown Prince correspond with any Saudi officials in any government entity on harming Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen. We categorically reject any accusations purportedly linking the Crown Prince to this horrific incident.”

(MORE: After CIA briefing, Republicans say ‘no question’ Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi murder)

While Pompeo and Mattis also cast doubt on role, Graham dismissed their statements Tuesday as those of “good soldiers” towing the president’s line, adding, “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.”

With anger bubbling on Capitol Hill, it remains an open question what Congress will and can do next, especially because the White House has fiercely defended the Saudis and the Saudis have warned that any action against the crown prince would be an attack on the country.

PHOTO: Sen. Lindsey Graham waits for President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Nov. 14, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters, FILE)
PHOTO: Sen. Lindsey Graham waits for President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Nov. 14, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters, FILE)

Still, Graham told ABC News on Wednesday that he was looking to suspend arms sales and U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen, saying the U.S.-Saudi relationship is “strategically important,” but it’s also “strategically important that we separate ourselves from the conduct of the crown prince.”

Graham said his resolution will go “through the parade of horribles regarding MBS,” including his military intervention in Yemen, his crackdown on royal rivals and political dissidents and activists, the detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri, the blockade of neighbor and U.S. partner Qatar, and the public spat with Canada over human rights.

It explicitly says the Senate has “a high level of confidence that Mohammed bin Salman was complicit” and “urges the United States Government and the international community to hold all parties, including Mohammed bin Salman, involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi accountable.”

(MORE: Donald Trump defends Saudi Arabia’s denials in Khashoggi murder, says relationship most important)

That bill could be added to the Yemen resolution, according to Graham, who told ABC News he was not inclined to support the withdrawal of U.S. support for the Saudi coalition, but he didn’t think any legislation would win enough support without it.

At the same time, Corker said he was working on a resolution similar to Graham’s, though he would not share details as it is being crafted. And the meeting Thursday, which Corker is expected to lead, is designed to try to find a consensus “among interested parties.” That product could then be substituted for the Yemen resolution.

It’s unlikely Trump would support any of that and, at this point, it’s unclear whether Congress has the necessary two-thirds support to override a potential presidential veto. But analysts warn that the administration has to do something now to work with Congress before the situation escalates.

“If you don’t do enough now, then the pressure is going to build because the frustration is going to build for doing something much more profound later on, which may not be in our interest in terms of preserving a relationship that still serves us in the broader Middle East,” said Dennis Ross, a U.S. diplomat who served both Republican and Democratic presidents, most recently as a special assistant to President Barack Obama.

PHOTO: Senator Bob Corker speaks to members of the media following a closed briefing for US senators on Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, Nov. 28, 2018. (Michael Reynolds/EPA via Shutterstock)
PHOTO: Senator Bob Corker speaks to members of the media following a closed briefing for US senators on Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, Nov. 28, 2018. (Michael Reynolds/EPA via Shutterstock)

Critics also say the Saudis need to be sent a stronger message and Saudi reliance on the U.S. means the relationship could sustain a tough one.

“The Saudis need us a lot more than we need them,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to Obama, tweeted last week. “A remarkable show of weakness from the Trump Administration.”

(MORE: CIA director to brief handful of senators on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death)

But one thing seems to be clear: The crown prince is not going anywhere. He has concentrated so much power within the kingdom and he retains strong popularity among young people who see him as a reformer.

“The Saudis are not going to remove him because we say so,” said Ross, now the counselor and a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

With Graham promising to withhold arms sales until the crown prince is gone, that sets up a difficult showdown in the weeks and months ahead.

“Saudi Arabia has never been popular in America, but presidents of both parties have recognized the importance of strong ties with Riyadh,” wrote Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official now at the Brookings Institution. “This might not survive the accession of Mohammed to the throne.”

ABC News’ Mariam Khan contributed to this report from Capitol Hill.

Bipartisan Senate group wants to formally blame Saudi crown prince for journalist’s killing

December 6, 2018

A bipartisan group of senators filed a resolution Wednesday to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, directly challenging President Trump to do the same.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. (G-20 summit press office/AP)

“This resolution — without equivocation — definitively states that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia was complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi and has been a wrecking ball to the region jeopardizing our national security interests on multiple fronts,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement accompanying the release of the resolution. “It will be up to Saudi Arabia as to how to deal with this matter. But it is up to the United States to firmly stand for who we are and what we believe.”

The resolution put forward by Graham and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who are expected to lead the Judiciary Committee together next year, comes just one day after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed leading senators about the details of the agency’s assessment that Mohammed ordered and monitored the killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Senators emerged from that closed-door briefing furious not only with Saudi Arabia, but Trump as well, for dismissing the heft of the CIA’s findings.

By  Karoun Demirjian
The Washington Post

“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 said following the briefing, referring to Mohammed by his initials. He added that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who briefed senators last week, were at best being “good soldiers” and at worst were “in the pocket of Saudi Arabia” for presenting the evidence of Mohammed’s involvement as inconclusive.

The release of the resolution condemning Mohammed also comes as the Senate is preparing to move ahead with debate on a resolution to curtail U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Though the Yemen resolution does not directly address Khashoggi’s murder, its popularity is a sign of how strained the United States’ patience with Saudi Arabia is on multiple fronts, including its role in worsening the civilian cost of the war in Yemen, cited by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Last week, the Senate voted 63 to 37 to advance the Yemen resolution past an opening procedural hurdle. But Graham and Feinstein’s resolution on the crown prince has the potential of drawing broader support, especially from Republicans, who are deeply divided about how fiercely to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s killing.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been an outspoken advocate for human rights and is seen as one of the more influential foreign policy voices in the GOP, did not vote for the Yemen resolution last week or sign on to a bipartisan measure last month to sanction Saudi officials and cease weapons transfers to the kingdom. But he is an original co-sponsor of the resolution condemning Mohammed over Khashoggi’s death.

So is Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), who represents the other end of the GOP spectrum in terms of recent Saudi-related votes and endorsements. Young was an initial co-sponsor of the bill Graham wrote with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to sanction Saudi officials deemed responsible for Khashoggi’s killing and stop the sale of anything but exclusively defensive weapons to the kingdom until it ceased hostilities in Yemen. Young also voted to advance the Yemen resolution — something Graham did as well, though Graham has signaled he will not be lending any similar support to the measure, fearing it may establish a precedent of invoking the War Powers Act too broadly.

Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) are listed as original co-sponsors of the resolution condemning Mohammed, which also urges Saudi Arabia to negotiate with Houthi rebels to end the Yemen war, work out a political solution to its standoff with Qatar and release political prisoners.

But how much sway the resolution has probably comes down to how forcefully the administration decides to heed it — and thus far, Trump has not shown any interest in condemning the crown prince the way the senators hope he will.


Senate heading for historic vote to pull US military aid to Saudi Arabia

December 6, 2018

The Senate could begin debating a measure as early as Monday that would override the Trump administration and force the withdrawal of U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The effort is fueled in large part by a strong sense among lawmakers in both parties that the United States needs to rebuke Saudi Arabia over the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

The Senate has never considered a measure to withdraw U.S. military forces from an overseas conflict, and the resolution would compel them to take such a vote. Many think the Senate will take it up.

Image result for Mohammed bin Salman, photos

The vote hasn’t been scheduled yet, but Senate lawmakers anticipate Monday’s agenda will include passage of a motion to proceed to the joint resolution.

“My guess is it’s got more than 51,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., referring to a majority vote in the Senate that would be needed to proceed to the measure. “My sense is the motion to proceed will be successful.”

The tri-partisan measure is sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. and calls for ending U.S. military involvement in the war between a Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Sanders, Lee, and Murphy believe the United States should not be aiding the Saudis in a war that has created a humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

According to lawmakers, 10,000 civilians have been killed in the war and 40,000 have been wounded. The majority of the population is struggling to avoid starvation.

A large faction of Republican lawmakers is eager to avoid a vote on the War Powers Act because they believe it would set a dangerous precedent that could be applied to any United States ally. At the same time, they are determined to rebuke the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA determined is responsible for the October murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Corker, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and other lawmakers are working behind closed doors to come up with an alternative to the War Powers Resolution that would sanction the crown prince, although Corker would not provide the details of that plan.

Lawmakers will meet Thursday morning to discuss what they hope can serve as a substitute to the Lee-Sanders-Murphy resolution.

Graham is mulling a variety of alternatives, including one that would stop the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and suspend U.S. support in Yemen until the crown prince is punished or held accountable for Khashoggi’s death.

On Wednesday, Graham and others introduced a resolution that holds the crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and calls for the United States and the international community to hold the Saudis and the crown prince responsible.

It’s not clear now the resolution will impact the Lee-Sanders-Murphy measure.

Murphy said he won’t support any bill that leaves the U.S. in Yemen.

“I’m upset about Khashoggi,” Murphy said Wednesday as he walked into the Senate chamber for a vote. “But I’m more upset about the fact that this Congress has allowed thousands of kids to die inside Yemen. If this resolution doesn’t end U.S. participation in the war in Yemen then there are not 50 votes for the final product.”

Pompeo, Mattis to brief US senators on Saudi as concerns mount

November 27, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pentagon chief Jim Mattis will brief US senators Wednesday on developments related to Saudi Arabia, amid mounting bipartisan concern about the kingdom, a senior Republican lawmaker said Monday.

President Donald Trump’s emphatic support of Riyadh in recent weeks has rankled some Republicans. And the continuing brutal Saudi-led war in neighboring Yemen, which has caused an urgent humanitarian crisis, has also triggered concern.

Bob Corker, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Trump critic, told reporters that Pompeo and Mattis would brief the full Senate at 11:00 am (1600 GMT) in a closed-door session.

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Corker said he also hoped Central Intelligence Agency director Gina Haspel would attend.

Trump last week called Saudi Arabia a “steadfast partner” and said it was unclear whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was aware of the plan to kill Jamal Khashoggi, who Riyadh has acknowledged died inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Trump has also cast doubt on the CIA’s reported conclusion that the crown prince, also known as MBS, was behind the killing.

With tensions high over Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Corker said it was crucial to “hear from the administration as to where this is going.”

The scheduled briefing comes as liberal Senator Bernie Sanders moves to re-introduce a resolution, as early as this week, to end US participation in the Yemen war, months after his initial effort fell short.

Corker signaled it could have broader backing this time.

“I have a pretty good gauge on how people feel about Saudi Arabia right now, and I’d say we’re in a very, very different place than when we kept this from happening” in March, Corker said.

“I’m considering what the options are to make sure that we deal appropriately with Saudi Arabia on multiple issues right now.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio also expressed concern, saying he had supported US involvement in the war as a check on Iran’s influence and because he believed American technology sold to Saudi Arabia would help avoid the killing of civilians.

“Unfortunately, that hasn’t played out that way,” Rubio said.

Some US lawmakers have called for a strong US response to Khashoggi’s murder, including blocking arms sales and imposing sanctions beyond those that Washington slapped on 17 Saudis allegedly involved in the killing.

“If the President does not reconsider what actions our government should take toward the Saudi Government & MbS, Congress must act instead,” Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, tweeted on Sunday.


Republicans divided over Trump’s posture toward Saudi Arabia

November 22, 2018

President faces criticism for ignoring US intelligence pointing to involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, left, and Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, who later that year became Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, shaking hands in the State Dining Room before lunch at the White House in Washington, DC,  March 14, 2017. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP)

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, left, and Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, who later that year became Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, shaking hands in the State Dining Room before lunch at the White House in Washington, DC, March 14, 2017. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump’s embrace of Saudi Arabia has exposed a foreign policy rift in the Republican Party, as some of his GOP colleagues warn that not punishing the kingdom for its role in killing a US-based columnist will have dangerous consequences.

Many Republicans — even Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, who share their views on the matter with the president — have denounced Trump’s decision not to levy harsher penalties on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the death and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday he was “astounded” by Trump’s statement and likened it to a press release for Saudi Arabia.

“It is a delicate situation when we have a long-term ally that we’ve had for decades, but we have a crown prince that I believe ordered the killing of a journalist,” Corker told Chattanooga TV station WTVC in his home state of Tennessee. “We don’t have a smoking gun. Everything points to the fact that he knew about it and directed it.”

In this image made from a March 2018 video provided by Metafora Production, Jamal Khashoggi speaks during an interview at an undisclosed location. (Metafora Production via AP)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s decision, saying the US has already placed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of involvement in the Oct. 2 killing of The Washington Post columnist, who had been critical of the royal family.

“We’ve sanctioned 17 people — some of them very senior in the Saudi government,” Pompeo said Wednesday in a radio interview with KCMO in Kansas City, Missouri. “We are going to make sure that America always stands for human rights.”

Graham, R-S.C., isn’t convinced. “When we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset,” he said.

Members of both parties have accused Trump of ignoring US intelligence that concluded, according to one US official, that it was likely the crown prince ordered the killing. Several lawmakers have indicated that the US has no “smoking gun” that proves he was responsible, but they have called on the CIA and other top intelligence agencies to publicly share what they told the president about the slaying.

Senate Judiciary Committee member Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) delivers remarks about Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh during a mark up hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, September 28, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

In his statement Tuesday, Trump argued that punishing Saudi Arabia by “foolishly canceling” Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the US would only benefit Russia and China. Critics, including high-ranking officials in other countries, accused Trump of ignoring human rights and giving Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons.

It’s “America First,” Trump said.

That unleashed a tweet Wednesday from Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii who wrote: “Being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First.’”

Trump also said the US needs Saudi Arabia’s help to counter Iran in the region, fight extremism and keep oil prices steady. The US, Russia and the Saudis have boosted oil production in anticipation of sharply lower exports from Iran due to US sanctions reinstated after Trump exited the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump publicly thanked Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for plunging oil prices. However, OPEC, the cartel of oil-producing countries, could announce production cuts at its Dec. 6 meeting in Vienna, nudging prices upward.

“Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” he wrote from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he’s spending Thanksgiving.

A view of the Mar-a-Lago Resort, February 2017. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images via JTA)

Criticism of the president will likely resume after the holiday when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill early next week.

“Congressional Republicans will have to do a gut check,” Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Wednesday. “The Republican Party has believed for more than 50 years that morality was one of the reasons why the United States won the Cold War. And the president walked away from that.”

Some lawmakers are already fighting back. Twenty-two members of the Senate — 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats — have triggered investigations into Khashoggi’s death and specifically whether the crown prince was responsible. The investigations were requested under provisions of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The act requires the president to report back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee within 120 days — in this case by Feb. 7 — on whether the crown prince was responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression and the administration’s decision on whether sanctions are warranted.

In this photo from May 20, 2017, US President Donald Trump holds a sword and dances with traditional dancers during a welcome ceremony at Murabba Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Moreover, three Democrats and three Republicans, who say sanctions, which include a ban on travel to the US, imposed so far are insufficient, have introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018. Among other things, the bill calls for suspending weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and imposing mandatory sanctions on all those responsible for Khashoggi’s death and those blocking humanitarian access to Yemen.

Democrats going against the president is expected, but Republican outrage will be more difficult for Trump to shrug off.

Before leaving for the holiday, Paul, R-Ky., lamented to The Associated Press that Trump didn’t accept the counsel he received from both him and Graham — two Republicans often at odds on foreign policy.

In this March 21, 2018, photo, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor for a vote with accompanying reporters, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Graham has said the crown prince is “irrational” and “unhinged” and warns there will be strong, bipartisan support in Congress for harsher sanctions against Saudi Arabia and members of the royal family.

Paul typically eschews US intervention abroad, but views Khashoggi’s death as one in a long line of malign activities by Saudi Arabia topped by its war in neighboring Yemen where civilians are being killed by Saudi airstrikes.

“He’s been hearing from both myself and from Lindsey Graham — two different sides of the foreign policy spectrum — and yet we get this,” Paul said about Trump’s statement in support of Saudi Arabia. “We really have to reconsider what we’re doing.”