Senators who have grown increasingly uneasy with the US response to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are set to grill top administration officials on Wednesday at a closed-door briefing that could determine how far Congress goes in punishing the longtime Middle East ally.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says “some kind of response” is needed from the United States for the Saudis’ role in the gruesome death. While President Donald Trump has equivocated over who is to blame, the Senate is considering a vote as soon as this week to halt US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
“What obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world,” McConnell said on Tuesday.
“We’re discussing what the appropriate response would be.” Much will depend on what senators hear from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Administration officials were able to stall a Senate effort earlier this year against the Saudi-backed conflict in Yemen. But senators are outraged over the administration’s response to Khashoggi’s killing, and they’re particularly upset that no one from the intelligence community is attending Wednesday’s briefing.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of 10 Democrats who declined to join the earlier effort against the Saudis, said Tuesday he was reconsidering his position.
“Things changed,” Manchin said. “The whole thing with Khashoggi is very much concern. It’s not who we are as a country. It’s not who we should have as allies and not condemn that.”
The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, will likely be in favor of the Yemen resolution, and another key member of the panel, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he was “inclined” to support it now if it came up for a vote.
Senators are getting hammered by outside groups running ads and lobbying them for action.
“What I would argue to the administration is that somehow or another there’s got to be a price to pay for what has happened,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the committee.
“My sense is unless something happens where they share what it is they’re going to do to deal with this injustice that has occurred my sense is that people are going to vote to get on the bill.”