Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., comments during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1, 2018. The Senate voted 60-39 on Wednesday to hold a full floor debate on a resolution sponsored by Sanders that would reverse U.S. support to the Saudi-led military operation against Yemen.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., comments during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1, 2018. The Senate voted 60-39 on Wednesday to hold a full floor debate on a resolution sponsored by Sanders that would reverse U.S. support to the Saudi-led military operation against Yemen. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday cleared another procedural hurdle to consider legislation to end the U.S. military’s support of the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen, raising new pressure on the White House to redirect its efforts.

Senators voted 60 to 39 to approve a full floor debate in the upper chamber on a resolution to reverse U.S. support of the Saudis in the war-torn country that is on the brink of famine, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 85,000 children.

The U.S. military action in the four-year Yemen civil war is authorized under wide-ranging war powers legislation approved by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“The disastrous and bloody Saudi-led war in Yemen is supported by the United States,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said ahead of Wednesday’s procedural vote. “It is a humanitarian disaster.”

The Senate was poised to debate the resolution for up to 10 hours Wednesday, one of its sponsors, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said. If the measure receives final passage, the House could pick up the measure next year, but its fate there remains unclear. Also unclear was the full impact of a provision in a farm bill that could pass the House floor that attempts to limit resolutions objecting to the U.S. military’s role in Yemen.

The Senate vote, which comes two weeks after the upper chamber approved a procedural measure to allow Wednesday’s move, increases pressure on the White House to re-evaluate its direction in Yemen, as well as push for a peaceful resolution in the country’s ongoing civil war.

Earlier this month, senators met behind closed doors on Capitol Hill with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who urged the lawmakers to thwart efforts to move forward with the resolution.

“Today the U.S. Senate will vote on whether to end US support for the devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a resolution sponsor, wrote on Twitter. “This would be the first time ever that the Senate has voted to end an unauthorized war. We must finally end US involvement in this humanitarian and strategic disaster.”

Sanders and Murphy, along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced Joint Resolution 54 in March, forcing a vote for the first time on the matter, though in the midst of broader support of the operation. As a result, the resolution was effectively rejected in a 55 to 44 vote, largely along party lines with Republicans voting against.

But since that time, support for Saudi Arabia has diminished, especially in light of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the country’s consulate in Turkey and concerns of a subsequent, apparent cover up led by the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi, a Virginia resident, was killed after he visited the Saudi consulate in Turkey, followed by reports of recordings and other intelligence detailing his brutal murder at the hands of several Saudi officials.

President Donald Trump’s comments about Khashoggi’s death have also fueled concerns, since he’s sided against U.S. intelligence reports confirming the Saudi crown prince directed the killing. Pompeo and Mattis have also aligned with Trump’s view of the intelligence.

Reports said the killers dismembered Khashoggi with a bone saw.

“There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said last week after a closed-door meeting with CIA Director Gina Haspel. “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.”

Last week, Graham led a bipartisan group of senators in sponsoring a resolution declaring the crown prince complicit in Khashoggi’s death that could go before the Senate floor. Outgoing Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was also slated to file a similar resolution this week.

Also later Wednesday, Graham, Murphy and Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said they would lay out the next steps to address the crown prince’s role in the killing and the Saudi’s contribution to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

U.S. forces have provided support for Saudi Arabia and the Yemen government in their fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which some lawmakers contend the U.S. military has not been given proper authority to do. The U.S. forces have assisted in coordinating, refueling and providing target guidance and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Earlier this month, Mattis and Pompeo told senators in a private meeting the United States was at a critical juncture in the Yemen confrontation and couldn’t afford to withdraw right now.

“Pulling back our limited U.S. military support, our weapons sales to our partners, and our protection of the Saudi and Emirati populations would be misguided on the eve of the promising initial negotiations,” Mattis said at the time, according to prepared remarks. “It took us too long to get here, but at this key juncture, a change in our approach would work against” United Nations efforts.

Democrats have said after winning the House in the November midterm elections that they would push for greater oversight of U.S. operations, and look at efforts to stop U.S. efforts in Yemen. An increasing number of Republicans have echoed the concerns.

But Pompeo raised concerns the resolution would encourage the Houthis and Iranians tied to the war in Yemen and undermine peace talks that began last week in Sweden.

Mattis and Pompeo called for a ceasefire on Oct. 30, with the goal of causing all sides to take a step back from the fighting.

After several days of peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, both sides have reached some agreements, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. The talks signaled that the negotiations could see another round of discussions next month.

Twitter: @cgrisales

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