Lawmakers renew fight with Trump over Saudi Arabia, Yemen

Congress is poised to face off with President Trump for a second time over his administration’s policy toward Saudi Arabia, as lawmaker groups in both chambers reintroduce resolutions to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen civil war.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), along with Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna (Calif.) and Mark Pocan (Wis.), on Wednesday introduced updated versions of their Yemen war powers resolutions, renewing a battle they first fought with Trump in the previous Congress.

“Today we are coming together to address one of the great humanitarian crises facing the planet and also in a historical way to make certain that that United States Congress reasserts its constitutional responsibilities in terms of war making,” Sanders said at a press conference Wednesday. “The United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic Saudi regime with a dangerous and irresponsible military policy.”

{mosads}The group of lawmakers has for years opposed U.S. military support for the Saudis in Yemen’s civil war. But it wasn’t until 2018 that their efforts gained considerable momentum, as Congress fumed over the killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey and searched for a way to punish the kingdom.

Lawmakers have blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post. The crown prince has denied any involvement in the columnist’s murder.

“The reason [Trump administration officials] present to us that we should continue our support for this bombing campaign is that the Saudis are an ally. What kind of ally kidnaps a resident of your country who is seeking our protection, brings him into a consulate, chops him up and makes him disappear?” Murphy said. “The nature of this alliance has been exposed.”

In Yemen, the United States supports the Saudi-led war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels with logistics, intelligence sharing and arms sales. The U.S. military also provided aerial refueling for Saudi coalition aircraft until November, when the Trump administration halted that form of support.

Saudi coalition airstrikes have been blamed for the majority of thousands of civilian deaths in the war, exacerbating the risk of famine for half of Yemen’s population, and destroying water infrastructure, which has led to a cholera outbreak.

The Senate voted 56-41 in December to pass a resolution from Sanders, Murphy and Lee that would withdraw U.S. forces in or “affecting” Yemen, except troops fighting al Qaeda and associated forces.

It was the first time a chamber of Congress voted in favor of a war powers resolution since the War Powers Act was passed in 1973.

But the Republican-controlled House last year blocked Yemen war powers resolutions from coming to the floor for a vote. With Democrats now in the majority, Khanna’s office said it expects the resolution to come to the House floor next month.

“This will be the first time in the history of this country since 1973 that we will successfully pass a war powers resolution through the Senate and through the House,” Khanna said.

The resolution has the backing of House Democratic leadership, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying in a statement Wednesday that “the conflict in Yemen has gone on for far too long, leaving a permanent stain on the conscience of the world.”

{mossecondads}While the Senate remains under GOP control, senators can force a vote on a war powers resolution 10 days after it is introduced. Supporters of the measure say they think it has the votes to pass the Senate a second time based on last year’s vote tally, despite Democrats having lost two seats since then.

Even if it passes both chambers, Trump is unlikely to sign the measure into law. The White House threatened to veto last year’s Senate resolution.

But supporters say passage will still send send a strong message that could improve conditions in Yemen.

“I am 100 percent convinced that the only reason those parties have come to the negotiating table with [United Nations] special envoy [Martin] Griffiths is because the Congress is acting,” Khanna said. “When we pass this resolution through the House and the Senate, I guarantee you that the coalition and the Houthis will come to the table to have a longer ceasefire.”

The resolution being introduced Wednesday expands on last year’s measure.

It would still direct the president to withdraw U.S. forces in or affecting hostilities in Yemen in 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda or associated forces, but it also defines hostilities as including aerial refueling of non-U.S. aircraft conducting missions in the civil war. Though the U.S. military no longer provides such support, officials have previously argued that it wouldn’t be covered by a war powers resolution anyway.

The new resolution specifies that it should “not be construed to influence or disrupt any military operations and cooperation with Israel.”

It also would require two reports: one on the risks posed to U.S. and Saudi citizens by stopping support for the Saudi campaign; and one on the risks of a terrorist attack against U.S. forces abroad, allies or the U.S. mainland if Saudi Arabia were to end Yemen-related intelligence sharing with the United States.

The Trump administration has argued that withdrawing U.S. military support would undermine efforts to improve Saudi targeting and broker a peace deal. The administration has also made the Yemen civil war a central part of its counter-Iran strategy.

U.N.-led peace talks in December resulted in a ceasefire agreement in the key port city of Hodeidah. But the International Rescue Committee warned Tuesday that the ceasefire was on the verge of failing amid intensifying clashes inside Hodeidah between the warring parties.

“Currently that ceasefire is in danger of breaking down,” Sanders said, “so it is essential that the House and the Senate act and act very soon.”

— Updated at 1:31 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Chris Murphy Donald Trump Mark Pocan Mike Lee Nancy Pelosi Ro Khanna
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