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Signs indicate Senate may be revolting against Trump

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Douglas Cohn

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Republicans are beginning to jump the not-so-good-ship Trump, but in a most unusual and indirect manner. Instead of joining the cacophony chorus of critics emanating from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations, increasing numbers of Senate Republicans are discovering alternate ways of cutting loose from this troubled ship of state.

Seven Republicans joined Senate Democrats Thursday to deliver a stinging rebuke to President Trump’s coddling of Saudi Arabia. They voted to end U.S. involvement in the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen. And then all 51 Republicans joined in a unanimous voice vote to condemn the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salam (known as MBS) for his role in orchestrating the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

With the midterm elections behind them, and Trump’s political standing weakened, Republicans are newly emboldened to stand up to the president, albeit obliquely, because the opposition to the Yemen war is as much about Trump as it is about the Saudi-led war. If Republicans are willing to break with Trump on Khashoggi and Yemen, will they break with him on other issues? On one big issue in particular?

Trump’s response to the murder of Kashoggi, a Washington Post journalist with U.S. residency living in Virginia, has been disgraceful, and the president’s dismissive attitude triggered a revolt within the GOP. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., normally a staunch Trump ally, calls MBS a “wrecking ball.” While Graham didn’t vote for the legislation, citing concerns about the War Powers Act, he made it clear that he’s prepared to challenge Trump on Saudi policy in the next Congress.

The votes represent the first time Senate Republicans broke with the president on a significant issue. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., blocked similar Yemen-related measures in the House earlier in the week. He is now under pressure to allow a vote before lawmakers adjourn for the holidays.

But the Senate is where the danger lies. The House can impeach — a word now heard more and more often — with a simple majority vote, but it’s up to the Senate to convict, and that takes a two-thirds vote. So, unless at least 20 Republicans join with Democrats, Trump would be exonerated. Keeping Republican support in the Senate is how Trump saves his presidency, and that’s why the revolts over Yemen and Kashoggi are so concerning to the White House.

The Senate-passed legislation is largely symbolic. Without a House vote in the limited time remaining in the lame duck Congress, it won’t go to Trump for his signature or veto.

But two messages are clear. On the surface a growing consensus wants the United States to stop aiding and abetting the Saudis by fueling their war planes, and allowing made-in-America munitions to continue a war that has already killed 85,000 people, and where 2 million people are on the verge of starvation because the Saudis are blocking the ports of entry to deliver food, water, and medical supplies.

But the underlying message is equally clear: Mr. President, you can no longer count on the Senate to do your bidding up to and including a not guilty vote in an increasingly likely impeachment trial.

Washington Merry-Go-Round presents today’s events in historical perspective. Douglas Cohn is a columnist, speaker and author of political and historical nonfiction. Eleanor Clift is political reporter, author, a contributor to MSNBC and blogger for The Daily Beast.

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