Littwin: Senate Republicans stand up to Trump while Cory Gardner continues to stand down

Sen. Cory Gardner addressing a town hall at Colorado Christian University, August 2017. (Photo by Phil Cherner)

This just in: The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate actually stood up to Donald Trump on America’s role in the catastrophic, Saudi-led fighting in Yemen.

Yes, I’m shocked, too. Yes, it was a preliminary vote that could lead nowhere. Yes, the vote happened only because certain senators felt that Trump had lied to them (just the way, you know, he has lied to everyone else).

But still.

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. According to the charity Save the Children, 85,000 children under the age of 5 have already died from starvation.

The successful vote, which needed 60 in support, is a first step. There are lots of steps to go. But the Senate invoked the seldom-used War Powers Act to get this far. There will be another vote next week. There will be amendments. There will be a full-throated 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.

As Trump might say, maybe it did, maybe it didn’t.

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. Graham added: “I am not going to blow past this. Anything that you need me for to get out of town — I ain’t doing it until we hear from the CIA.”

So, this is clearly a rebuke of Saudi Arabia for its role — confirmed by the CIA — in the death of Khashoggi and clearly a rebuke of Donald Trump for his refusal to do anything to punish Saudi Arabia and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for their part in Khashoggi’s death and the dismemberment of his body.

Pompeo dodged reporters’ questions about the crown prince and Haspel. Both Pompeo and Mattis made the case to senators that the inarguably horrific war in Yemen would be even worse without U.S. involvement. 

And, of course, the transactional Trump has argued that Saudi Arabia, our great ally, 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).

So, I know you’re impatiently waiting to hear how Cory Gardner voted on the resolution. Or maybe you’ve already guessed.

He voted … with Trump. He voted, let’s face it, 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 even be directly allied with Trump to be tarred by association with him. If there’s anything else we learned, it’s that Colorado — too educated, too suburban, too Hispanic, too resistant to tear-gassing children, too skeptical of the notion that wild fires are best fought with Finnish rakes — will no longer be a swing state for at least as long as Donald 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 — say, on DACA or immigration in general — if anything is to be done. Saudi Arabia is one possible area of agreement, or will be, anyway, when the next Congress convenes.

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.


  1. Did Rip Van Gardner sleep through the mid-terms? Or is he angling for some kind of leadership role for the last 2 years of his Senate career? He always seems to be standing just over Mitch McConnell’s shoulder during important votes or announcements. He was on TV railing about voter irregularities in AZ and FLA. And he votes in the Mitch Minority on Saudi Arabia. Sounds like a senator who is tired of winning.

  2. Gardner knows just how corrupt trump is…there is no excuse for gardner…we have two years to make sure he is never re-elected..

  3. This has nothing to do with Trump. Gardner takes fossil fuel and lockheed martin money for his campaign. He is beholded to war makers and oil producers.

  4. It’s long past time for Cory Gardner to wake up and smell the White House. He has neither the backbone nor the moral values to stand up to Trump on the many concerns which prompted Colorado voters — Democrats, Independents, even some Republicans — to dump every GOP candidate for statewide office November 6 — voters Gardner somehow imagines will rally to his side come 2020.
    Hang in there, Trump fans! Cory the Complicit will always be your man, no matter what the President does.

  5. How many who have commented really know what is going on in Yemen. Remember our ship was tied up there, for refueling, and was bombed. Do those posting here, believe those sailors were corrupt, and deserved to die. Do you know which of the folks on the Yemen streets, are Shite, or Sunni? Do any of you know where their support lies, and what they believe in. I suspect the Arab Princes of House of Saud, know more about who is who, there, and who are terrorists, and which are peaceful.
    ——I don’t think any of you know the Arabic mind, religion, or policies. And I suspect those we have elected in past, had pretty good idea. I am not all that happy with our congress, of either party. I do know our ships are going to be passing there in future, and we don’t need them bombed, just as we intend to punish Iran and Syria for their transgressions. And Donald Trump is not going to go , bow down to anyone from other countries, or kiss their rings. And he will be apologizing for USA, for problems of past administrations.

  6. Ref my comment. Last sentence needs correction. “And he will NOT be apologizing for USA, for problems of past administrations.

  7. Frank2525 – “And Donald Trump is not going to go , bow down to anyone from other countries, or kiss their rings” Unless it’s Vladimir Putin, or some other authoritarian dictator. It would be funny if it weren’t a tragic statement on America’s downfall under Trump.

  8. Standing by Mitch and supporting Trump, which, you are right strikes as though he may not care losing Senate Seat, there’s something bigger for him from his Party.

  9. Knowing or not knowing the Arabic mind has nothing to do with simple justice and civility. Murdering journalists is unacceptable to the American mind which I do know!

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