Congress stares down Trump on Yemen war

After five votes, Congress has finally passed a bill ending US support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, but it faces a likely veto from President Donald Trump.

al-monitor A supporter of the Houthi movement looks as he holds up a rifle during a rally to mark the 4th anniversary of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen's war, in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris

@brykharris_ALM

Topics covered

veto, houthis, saudi war on yemen, us-saudi relations, refueling aircrafts, donald trump, us congress, congress

Apr 4, 2019

The House voted today to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, finally sending the resolution to President Donald Trump’s desk after five votes since March 2018.

Today’s 247-175 vote marks the first time Congress has successfully used the 1973 War Powers Act in a bid to curtail a foreign military intervention. But Trump has threatened to veto the bill, which has not garnered enough support in either chamber to override him.

“This is the first time in the history of this nation that a War Powers Resolution has passed the House and Senate and made it to the president’s desk,” the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said in a statement. “Despite the many procedural roadblocks deployed in both chambers to block this resolution, commitment to human rights and responsibility prevailed.”

The resolution enjoyed bipartisan support when it passed the Republican-led Senate 54-46 last month. But today’s House vote was mostly along party lines, with just 16 Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues to pass the bill.

Most Republicans sided with Trump in arguing that the Vietnam-era War Powers Act does not apply in this case because US support for the Saudi intervention against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels does not rise to the level of “hostilities.” Lawmakers of both parties have long argued that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should do more to limit civilian casualties in Yemen, but disagree on the best approach.

“This resolution abuses the war powers tool to get at a completely different security assistance issue which Congress already has clear tools to address,” Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said ahead of the vote. “If a member wants to condition or cut off US security assistance to Saudi Arabia, then bring forward a bill to do just that.”

McCaul argued that the resolution’s only legal effect is to cut off US midair refueling support for Saudi Arabia, which the Trump administration already ended last year after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But Democrats note that it would also prevent the Trump administration from resuming that support. The liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus goes a step further, insisting that the resolution requires the United States to end targeting and logistical support for the Saudi coalition.

The Democratic caucus stood largely united against a last-ditch Republican attempt to keep the bill off Trump’s desk by adding unrelated language regarding Israel. Exploiting Democratic divisions over the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), Republicans attempted to attach a nonbinding resolution to the bill opposing the movement. Most Democrats voted against the Republican motion, which failed 194-228, with five Democrats voting in favor.

When offering the motion, McCaul labelled the Yemen resolution as “pro-Iran and anti-Israel.”

Democrats in turn accused Republicans of using Israel as a partisan wedge issue.

“I am not for the BDS movement,” Khanna said ahead of the vote. “I have supported very strongly resolutions condemning anti-Semitism, but I also don’t think that these tactics should be used as weapons to prevent the efforts to stop the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world.” 

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