The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to cease military assistance to Saudi Arabia and its coalition airstrikes in Yemen, which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians and a massive humanitarian crisis in the impoverished country.
Moving with the procedural grace of a painfully slow gallstone, senators cast a largely symbolic vote of 56 to 41 on Joint Resolution 54 (the shortened moniker of the resolution’s full name, “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress”), marking the first time the War Powers Resolution, which limits presidential power to deploy or expand military engagement, was invoked by the Senate to pull the U.S. out of an overseas war.
Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), with the help of the House Rules Committee, on Wednesday night blocked a parallel resolution, delaying any meaningful changes to U.S. policy until next year.
The increasing body count in Yemen — which includes 85,000 children who have starved to death since the start of the civil war between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Houthi rebels — coupled with the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi finally tipped the scales for senators.
The Senate vote was a long time in the making, with stalled and failed attempts holding back the resolution that would see the U.S. no longer refueling Saudi jets for their coalition airstrikes in Yemen, and no longer providing logistical assistance.
Before passing the resolution, senators battled over a series of amendments — including two failed amendments from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), which would have carved out exceptions for Saudi efforts to fight Houthi rebels.
“The Trump administration has cynically framed this vote as a binary zero sum choice. You’re either for Iran or you’re for Saudi Arabia. Well, my answer to that is I am for the United States of America. I am for America’s security interests and I am for American values and I am for partnerships and alliances deeply rooted in both,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
He referred to the Trump administration’s view of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as “distorted” and called the president’s support for Saudi Arabia “unhinged.”
Menendez also took time to list some of the ways Saudi Arabia has, in fact, harmed U.S. interests in the region.
Menendez concluded his lengthy list of Saudi misdeeds by asking, “Has Iran been weakened by these actions? Is the focus still on Al Qaeda defeating ISIS? I don’t think so.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who sponsored the bill, noted that the participation of the U.S. in war in Yemen is “unauthorized.”
“There has never been a vote in Congress to allow our men and women to participate in that war, and therefore that war is unconstitutional. And it has got to end, and that is the vote that we will be having this afternoon,” he said, adding that the civil war there has caused an “unbelievable humanitarian crisis … It is the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth.”
Khashoggi, who wrote critically about the policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for The Washington Post, was murdered by his fellow countrymen, within the walls of his country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
What followed has been months of denials and lies by Saudi authorities, who maintain that the prince, known as MBS, had nothing to do with Khashoggi’s killing. These claims have found no purchase with anyone other than President Donald Trump.
The president dismissed the findings of an intelligence report that found it highly improbably that MBS had planned and ordered Khashoggi’s murder. Trump also tried to keep CIA Director Gina Haspel from testifying before a Senate panel, but at the lawmaker’s behest, Haspel was finally able to testify in a closed meeting.
Lawmakers walked away from that meeting convinced of MBS’s role in Khashoggi’s brutal murder.
“I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder and was kept appraised of the situation all the way through it,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) after the meeting.