Senators plan another push to restrict U.S. role in Yemen war

February 28, 2019

Lawmakers are gearing up for their second attempt to pass a bill that would end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s brutal civil war.

After a similar House-backed bill hit a procedural snag earlier this week, Democratic Sens. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said they are planning to reintroduce their version of the legislation next week, senior Democratic aides tell The Washington Times.

“The U.S. Senate will have an opportunity to vote to end our unauthorized and unconstitutional involvement in the war in Yemen,” Mr. Lee said.

The measure, which was introduced in the dying days for the previous Congress last year amid sharp criticism of de facto Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, challenged the Trump administration’s relations with Riyadh in the wake of the killing of dissident U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in October. Despite receiving bipartisan support, it never saw a House vote.

The latest push closely follows a surprise decision by the Senate parliamentarian that the bill did not have the “privileged” status that would have forced a Senate debate and up-and-down vote by a simple majority.

Both the original Senate bill and the House resolution call for the end of all U.S. support for the Saudis in the war with Yemen’s Houthi rebels, a conflict that observers say has produced massive civilian casualties, displaced 3 million Yemenis and sparked what the aid groups call the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

“It is critical that we disentangle ourselves from a war that has killed thousands of Yemen civilians, undermined our credibility, and reportedly allowed U.S.-made weapons to fall into the hands of radical Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda, ISIS, and Iran,” said Mr. Lee, who co-sponsored the Senate’s first bill.

The legislation invoked the War Powers Act, which would insert congressional oversight in the Yemen conflict and direct the president to withdraw U.S. forces affecting hostilities in Yemen. The invoking of the War Powers Act has been a sticking point with Republicans who argue that it undermines President Trump’s authority as commander in chief.

The legislation has signaled a challenge to the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, which has made a closer alliance with Riyadh a centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s regional strategy.

The president had threatened to veto the legislation if passed, and has argued that its premise is “erroneous” and “flawed.”

House Democrats said it was inconsistent for the White House to seek to draw down U.S. troops in Syria and Afghanistan while remaining engaged in the fight in Yemen.

“It would be hypocritical to be for withdrawal in Afghanistan and withdrawal in Syria and then say we need to be involved in the Saudi war in Yemen,” an aide for Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, said.