The Senate voted 54-46 Wednesday to pass a resolution ending U.S. military assistance for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The vote crossed party lines, in what is seen as a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia over the last few months.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), invokes the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which gives Congress the power to call for a withdrawal of military troops in the absence of a formal declaration of war.
The Senate passed a similar resolution in December — the first time Congress has invoked the War Powers Resolution since it was first passed — but the bill failed in the House of Representatives. This version, however, is more likely to make it to the president’s desk, after Democrats took back control of the House in January.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015. Since then, it has bombed funerals, weddings, and hospitals across the country, often with the help of U.S. weapons, intelligence, and air support. In August, a coalition warplane dropped a bomb on a school bus, killing 40 boys aged 6 to 11 years old who were on a school trip. The bomb was later found to have been supplied by the United States.
“The fact is that the United States, with little media attention, has been Saudi Arabia’s partner in this horrific war,” Sanders said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “We have been providing the bombs the Saudi-led coalition is using, refueling their planes before they drop those bombs and assisting with intelligence. In too many cases, our weapons are being used to kill civilians.”
Trump has defended the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) despite the growing international condemnation of the war in Yemen as well as the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA concluded last year that MBS ordered the killing of Khashoggi, but Trump has continued to question that assessment.
“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in a November statement riddled with exclamation marks, after arguing that Saudi Arabia should not be further punished because it buys billions of dollars in U.S. arms. (Trump has regularly overestimated Saudi purchases of U.S. arms.)
After a similar bill passed last December, Lee specifically mentioned the outrage over Khashoggi’s death as a reason that the bill gained traction.
“What the Khashoggi event did, I think, was to focus on the fact that we have been led into this civil war in Yemen, half a world away, into a conflict in which few Americans that I know can articulate what American national security interest is at stake,” he said at the time. “And we’ve done so, following the lead of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
President Donald Trump has not vetoed any legislation passed by Congress, but the White House issued a veto threat on Wednesday ahead of the vote. The White House said that U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in the war does not meet the definition of “hostilities” in the War Powers resolution, making the entire legislation flawed.
The war in Yemen has created what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The United Nations has warned that 80 percent of Yemen’s population, or 24 million people, needs humanitarian aid, and nearly 10 million people are “just a step away from famine.”