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Collision in Congress over future of Yemen war

Sen. Bob Corker. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

An international conflict group reported this week that casualties from the war in Yemen has surpassed 60,000 since 2016, the Associated Press reports.

Where things stand: While the war rages on and the death toll climbs, Washington is divided. It's a clear struggle between those in Congress who believe a message must be sent to Saudi Arabia, and the president, who has refused to break from the Saudis.

In the Senate...

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.):

The Senate voted on Wednesday afternoon to advance the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution, which cites the War Powers Resolution in an effort to pull support from the Saudis in the war in Yemen.

  • Background: President Trump has already said he'd veto the legislation if it reached his desk, and a similar effort is stalled in the House. But Murphy said, per The Hill, that a vote this week is "a strong enough signal to the Saudis and a signal that we're going to come back and finish it off next year."
  • What's next: The Senate will debate and amend the legislation.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.):

Corker plans to introduce a non-binding resolution, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his colleagues to get behind on Wednesday. According to Roll Call, the resolution would condemn policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and blame him for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

  • Be smart: This would not directly change U.S. policy.
  • Where it stands: The legislation hasn't yet been officially announced.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

Graham was joined by a bipartisan group of senators in introducing a non-binding resolution last week which would place blame on MBS for Khashoggi's murder and call on the Saudis to "negotiate directly" with the Houthi rebels on an end to the war in Yemen.

  • Graham told Roll Call he'd also be fine with Corker's legislation: "The key is to send a strong signal."
  • Be smart: Graham's resolution does not directly change U.S. policy, though Graham has said he's done doing business with the Saudis as long as MBS is at the helm.
  • Where it stands: The legislation hasn't been voted on yet.

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.):

The Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018 calls for action against the kingdom in response to the murder of Khashoggi and the unfolding disaster in Yemen. It was co-sponsored by a group of bipartisan lawmakers, including Graham.

  • The act calls for the suspension of weapons sales to the Saudis and would impose sanctions on anyone responsible for Khashoggi's death within 30 days, "including any official of the government ... or member of the royal family."
  • Where it stands: This is expected to be picked back up in 2019, per The Hill.

In the House...

A Sanders-Lee-Murphy style resolution was effectively blacklisted in the House when a rule was added to the farm bill stating no vote on a war powers resolution regarding Yemen could be held until the new Congress is sworn in next year. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) has introduced such a resolution.

  • Where it stands: The farm bill — which the Senate passed on Tuesday — is now expected to be up for final vote later on Wednesday.

Peace talks...

Meanwhile in Sweden, the long-anticipated talks between the Saudi and Houthi delegations, which started last week, are set to end on Thursday.

  • The latest: Both sides agreed to reopen the Sanaa airport, according to Reuters, and have draft agreements on other issues, including "a political framework ... the status of the port city of Hodeidah and Yemen's economic situation."
  • The two sides also agreed on a swap of thousands of prisoners by Jan. 20, considered a major breakthrough between the warring factions.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to say that peace talks are taking place in Sweden, not Geneva. They happened in Geneva earlier this year.