- The Senate on Wednesday passed a resolution to end US support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen, defying President Donald Trump.
- This move is tied to the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and threatens Trump’s foreign-policy agenda.
- The resolution is expected to pass in the House, but Trump has vowed to veto it.
WASHINGTON – The Senate delivered a stern rebuke to President Donald Trump and his administration on Wednesday, voting to withdraw US support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.
The Senate voted 54-46. The resolution passed with mostly Democratic support, with a handful of Republicans crossing the aisle.
But the bulk of the GOP opposed the measure, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attacked the resolution during a floor speech on Wednesday morning, calling it “unnecessary and counterproductive.”
“Regarding Yemen, it is completely understandable that Senators have concerns over the war, the American interests entangled in it and its consequences for Yemeni civilians,” McConnell said. “I think there is bipartisan agreement – shared by the administration – that our objective should be the end of this horrible conflict. But this resolution will not end this conflict. It will not help Saudi pilots avoid civilian casualties.”
But the bill is not heading to the president’s desk just yet. Because of a snafu during a House vote last month, which derailed their resolution, the House will have to take up the Senate’s latest version of the measure.
The first version of the resolution passed the Senate during the last Congress by a 56-41 vote. But the Republican-led House would not take up that resolution at the end of 2018.
A second resolution was introduced by Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna in the House in early 2019. That version passed in February.
But the House version hit problems after House Republicans altered the resolution with a procedural manoeuvre called a motion to recommit. The tactic rarely works, but in this case, the GOP was able to add on language condemning anti-Semitism, which in turn caused procedural snags in the Senate.
Given the blockage, Sen. Bernie Sanders reintroduced a third version in the Senate that is identical to the resolution that passed in 2018. That is the version now heading to the House, where Khanna said it is expected to pass and move to Trump’s desk.
This is historic. For the first time in 45 years, Congress is one step closer to withdrawing U.S. forces from an unauthorized war. We must end the war in Yemen. https://t.co/7oLM7N3LlE
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 13, 2019
The White House has already vowed to veto the resolution, which is consistent with Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia.
Trump has faced criticism from congressional Democrats and Republicans alike for continuing to stand by the Saudis and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national who moved to the US and wrote for The Washington Post, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October by agents of the Saudi government. Riyadh has vehemently denied Prince Mohammed’s involvement, but he is widely reported to have ordered the attack on Khashoggi.
Trump has refused to budge when it comes to US support for the Saudis, however, even as top Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham have called for a reassessment of the relationship over Khashoggi’s death.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine told INSIDER that Wednesday’s vote “connects to the Khashoggi situation.”
“What was his key point of advocacy against the Saudis? It was his belief that the war in Yemen was a humanitarian disaster,” Kaine said, alluding to Khashoggi’s criticism of the Yemen war and the Saudi royal family in his writing.
“With an administration that’s unwilling to do anything to… hold the Saudis accountable for the Khashoggi murder … we need to take this step to show that while they don’t care about it, we do,” Kaine added.
If the White House had done something more “meaningful” to respond to Khashoggi’s killing, more senators might’ve voted against the resolution, Kaine added. “They have done nothing on Khashoggi,” Kaine said, also pointing to Trump’s refusal to adhere to the senate’s invocation of the Global Magnitsky Act on the matter.
The Trump administration has issued sanctions against 17 Saudis accused of being involved in Khashoggi’s killing but has not responded to pressure to go further.
Supporters of the Yemen resolution have also framed it as a means of reasserting Congress’ war powers, particularly in the context of the war on terror and the War Powers Act of 1973.
“The Constitution is pretty clear that Congress should declare when we go to war,” Republican Sen. Rand Paul told INSIDER. “We shouldn’t be at war with the Saudis in Yemen without approval of Congress. This is an extraordinary measure in the sense that it’s been very rare in our history … that both houses will vote to tell a president that we shouldn’t be in a war that wasn’t declared by Congress.”
Paul described this as a “great opportunity” for Congress to take back its war powers.
“This is an historic accomplishment, getting a bipartisan majority of Senators to agree on a pretty foundational constitutional issue: authority over war,” a Sanders aide told INSIDER after the resolution passed. “One of the goals of Sen. Sanders and his co-sponsors was to get these Article 1 muscles working again, and I think we’ll definitely see Congress become more and more assertive over these issues in the near future.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a cosponsor of the resolution, in a statement on Wednesday’s vote said, “The Saudi-led war in Yemen has caused 85,000 children to starve to death … Today we said enough – enough with this disastrous and unconstitutional war, enough with facilitating this humanitarian disaster, enough with giving the Saudis a blank check. I hope the Saudi leadership is paying attention.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from INSIDER.
The Yemen war has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, according to the UN. Nearly 100 civilian deaths or injuries were recorded each week in 2018.
The UN estimates that between the start of the conflict in March 2015 and August 2018 there were roughly 17,062 civilian casualties, 6,592 dead and 10,470 injured. The majority of those casualties, approximately 10,471, were a consequence of airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition the US supports.
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