Last week, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate actually stood up to President Donald Trump on America’s role Yemen.
In a 63-37 vote, 14 Republicans stood with 49 Democrats to pass a resolution that could force Trump to end assistance to the Saudi-based coalition fighting in Yemen. Many tens of thousands have died in the fight. Millions are said to be starving.
The successful vote, which needed 60 in support, is a first step. There will be another vote this week. There will be amendments. There will be an effort by the Trump administration to upend the resolution, which came, in part, after CIA Director Gina Haspel failed to join Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis for a classified briefing of Senate Republicans.
Why didn’t Haspel come to explain what she knows about the situation and particularly what she knows about the death of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi? The White House claims it played no role in her decision not to appear.
Lindsey Graham, of late a Trump lackey, was clear in his opinion. He pledged not to take “any key vote” in the late stages of the Senate session until Haspel briefs lawmakers.
This is clearly a rebuke of Saudi Arabia for its role in the death of Khashoggi and a rebuke of Trump for his refusal to do more to punish Saudi Arabia and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Pompeo dodged reporters’ questions about the crown prince and Haspel. Both Pompeo and Mattis made the case to senators that the horrific war in Yemen would be even worse without U.S. involvement.
Trump has argued that Saudi Arabia has helped keep oil prices low (yes, but it’s complicated) and also buys hundreds of billions of dollars worth of American arms (no, it doesn’t).
I know you’re impatiently waiting to hear how Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner voted on the resolution. Or maybe you’ve already guessed.
He voted with Trump. He voted for the continuing risk of starvation.
He voted with GOP leadership, and I have no idea why, other than the fact that he nearly always votes with GOP leadership.
If there’s anything Colorado Republicans learned from the 2018 midterms, it’s that you don’t have to be allied with Trump to be tarred by him. If there’s anything else we learned, it’s that Colorado will no longer be a swing state for at least as long as Trump is president.
And what Gardner must know is that if he wants to be re-elected in 2020 – with Trump at the top of the ticket – he has to move as far away from Trump as he can possibly risk without alienating Trump voters.
This was one of those opportunities. The anti-Trump-support-for-Saudi-Arabia faction had 63 votes, three more than it needed. Gardner’s vote didn’t count. In voting to pull America out of a horrible civil war, in voting to rebuke Trump for his support of an out-of-control MBS, Gardner would have risked nothing more than a mild rebuke from Trump – which is exactly what he needs.
As it stands now, the election gurus, within the state and nationally, are in agreement that Gardner’s seat is the most vulnerable of all Senate Republicans running in 2020. Just wait to see how many Democrats enter the field. One already has.
What’s most interesting about the Senate vote is that it comes with the knowledge that Democrats will control the House in January, meaning that Democrats and Republicans have to compromise in certain areas if anything is to be done. Saudi Arabia is one possible area of agreement.
I don’t know how much to take from this one vote. I very much doubt it foretells much and certainly not the beginning of a Senate Republican version of the resistance. But what do I know? Trump says that his “gut” tells him more “than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.” My gut tells me this was an unusual moment that Gardner didn’t have the guts to recognize.
Mike Littwin is a longtime Colorado journalist and a columnist for The Colorado Independent.