The Senate is set to vote Thursday afternoon on a resolution to end the United States’ support for the Saudi-led coalition that is responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen’s civil war.
A largely symbolic vote at this point, joint resolution 54 (the shortened monicker 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”) invokes the War Powers Resolution, a law that limits the president’s power to order or expand military engagement. It marks the first time the law has been used by the Senate to pull the U.S. out of an overseas war.
“The resolution sends a very clear signal to this administration and to Saudi Arabia that, if this administration doesn’t reorient our policy toward Saudi Arabia, then Congress is going to do it,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), the bill’s co-sponsor, gave a statement that amounted to a pointed civics lesson for President Donald Trump, in which he made it clear that military support for Saudi Arabia has made the U.S. a de facto “co-belligerent” in the conflict, in spite of the fact that the U.S. has no troops in Yemen.
The war in Yemen has been raging for over three years now.
Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s civil was has resulted in thousands of deaths from Saudi airstrikes, triggered cholera outbreaks, and pushed millions to the brink of famine, with an estimated 85,000 children having starved to death since 2015.
What has changed, said Lee, is the recent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the direct involvement of crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MBS). The entire incident, Lee said, removed MBS’s “mask… [and] people got a little freaked out.” The senator made no attempt to defend the way the United States has supported Saudi Arabia for as long as it has, simply adding, “Regardless of how we got here, we’re here.”
However, other senators, such as Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), spoke in support of president, who takes the position that support for Saudi Arabia provides a crucial counterweight to Iran’s influence in the region. Additionally, Sullivan asserted that U.S. involvement in Saudi’s operations in Yemen were necessary in order to maintain oversight.
Sullivan blamed Iran for starting the war in Yemen, and raged that it has “done nothing” to end the suffering of the civilians Saudi Arabia is bombing, calling Iran the real enemy” of the United States.
The proposed resolution is not open to a filibuster, only needing a simply majority to pass.
That the vote is being held at all is a resounding rejection of Trump’s unquestioning support for Saudi Arabia and bin Salman.
Meanwhile, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), with the help of the House Rules Committee, made sure on Wednesday night that a similar resolution would be blocked in the lower chamber — tucking a provision to that effect, in, of all things, the Farm Bill.
Some lawmakers, it seemed, don’t know much about what is going on in Yemen, nor do they seem to care.
Full transcript below. Some estimates say more than 50,000 civilians have died in Yemen pic.twitter.com/rR2ezICtv2
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) December 12, 2018
The upshot is that it is now extremely unlikely that a resolution seeking to end United States involvement in the conflict will make it to Trump’s desk before the end of the year.
In recent days, the Trump administration attempted to convince lawmakers to back down on the vote revoking U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making the case that providing support to the Gulf Arab kingdom was crucial to U.S. national security interests.
That effort was not well received: “The explanations did not sit well with many senators seeking straightforward answers to their concerns about the slaying of the journalist and the crisis in Yemen, which the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster,” the Washington Post reported.
One unnamed senator simply referred to it as “that horrible meeting.”
The murder of Khashoggi, who wrote several columns critical of the crown prince’s policies for the Washington Post, drew international attention to the repressive kingdom’s reach and influence with the White House.
President Trump, and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, are close to MBS.
The president has steadfastly reiterated that he believes MBS’s repeated denial that he was being involved in Khashoggi’s murder, More recently, reports have surfaced that Kushner advised the crown prince on how to handle the blowback from having the journalist murdered and dismembered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October.
This story has been updated with information about the timing of the Senate vote.