House panel advances measure to withdraw US support from Saudi coalition in Yemen

House panel advances measure to withdraw US support from Saudi coalition in Yemen
© Greg Nash

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced a resolution that would require President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE to withdraw U.S. forces from the Yemen civil war.

The Democratic-led panel voted 25-17 along party lines to send the war powers resolution to the full House, setting the stage for Democrats to confront Trump over his support for Saudi Arabia in the conflict.

“Our country’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, despite some bumps in the road, has been a valuable one,” committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey House to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback MORE (D-N.Y.) said. “But neither the threats facing the Saudis nor America’s partnership with the kingdom mean that the Saudis should have a blank check. We cannot look the other way when it comes to the recklessness with which the Saudi-led coalition has conducted its operations.”

The vote came after the committee’s first hearing of the new Congress, in which lawmakers heard from four experts on U.S. policy in the Arabian peninsula.

Scrutiny over the Trump administration’s support for Saudi Arabia reached new heights late last year after U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

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.

In Yemen, the United States has supported 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 House resolution that advanced Wednesday would direct the president to withdraw U.S. forces in or affecting hostilities Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda or associated forces.

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

It would also require two reports, one on the risks posed to U.S. and Saudi citizens by stopping support for the Saudi campaign and one of 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.

Republicans who opposed the resolution argued that while the Saudis must improve their conduct in Yemen, withdrawing military support would take away U.S. leverage and set a bad precedent by relying on a war powers resolution when U.S. troops are not in direct combat.

“I am alarmed that we are abusing a privileged war powers procedure to address questions where U.S. forces are not involved in combat,” said Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey Pelosi: No House vote on impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Texas), ranking member of the committee. “Not only does it fail to meaningfully address the security cooperation issues we face in the region, it also creates a dangerous precedent that could disrupt U.S. security cooperation with partners all around the world.”