Defense bill amendments seek to curb support for Saudis

Defense bill amendments seek to curb support for Saudis
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Several amendments to the annual defense policy bill seek to curb U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led campaign in Yemen's civil war.

The amendments come as Saudi Arabia’s conduct in the war and the region at large comes under increasing scrutiny in Congress, including a closer-than-expected vote in the Senate that would have blocked an arms sale to the country.

Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition fighting Iran-back Houthi rebels since 2015. The United States has supported the campaign by selling the Saudis billions of dollars of weapons, providing intelligence and helping with logistics such as air refueling.

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Congress’ patience with Saudi Arabia, though, has been wearing thin as the civilian death toll in the war mounts.

Among the amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) filed Friday are three from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

One of his amendments would prohibit funding from the refueling of aircraft being used by the coalition. Opponents of U.S. involvement have argued Saudi Arabia couldn’t prosecute the war without the U.S. help refueling their planes.

Khanna’s other amendments call for an inspector general report on whether the coalition has committed war crimes and require a certification that certain conditions have been met before the United States sells air-to-ground munitions to the coalition.

Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) has also filed an amendment to prohibit funds from being used to deploy U.S. troops to Yemen, while one from Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) would prohibit funds for any military operation in Yemen.

An amendment from Rep. Gwen MooreGwen MooreWisconsin Democrat refuses to be ‘backdrop’ in Trump’s jobs announcement Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding Three House Dems call for Trump to withdraw nominee to lead Ex-Im Bank MORE (D-Wis.) would require a U.S. strategy for Yemen that includes an assessment of the political and humanitarian situation in the country. Another amendment from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) would require a report from the Pentagon on whether Saudi Arabia and its partners are adhering to the no-strike list provided by the United States and progressing in their training on targeting capabilities.

Finally, an amendment from Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashOvernight Defense: Military won't lift transgender ban until Trump sends directions | House passes national security spending | Russian sanctions bill heads to Trump Overnight Finance: House passes spending bill with border wall funds | Ryan drops border tax idea | Russia sanctions bill goes to Trump's desk | Dems grill bank regulator picks House approves spending bill with funds for Trump's border wall MORE (R-Mich.) would prohibit transferring cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. A similar amendment was voted on last year and failed 204-216.

Critics of U.S. involvement in Yemen are more hopeful about the fate of this year’s amendments after the vote in the Senate last month on a Saudi arms deal.

The Senate voted 53-47 against blocking a portion of the $110 billion arms deal President Trump closed during his trip to Saudi Arabia.

Though the effort to block the sale failed, it was much closer than the 71-27 vote on a similar effort in September 2016, signaling Congress’ growing frustration with the Saudis.

The amendments to the NDAA must make it past the Rules Committee before coming to a vote on the House floor. The Rules Committee will consider NDAA amendments on Wednesday.