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The war in Yemen is bringing Trump allies and progressives together

And they're asking for a meeting with the president.

by Matt Laslo
Apr 10 2019, 5:56pm

WASHINGTON — President Trump promised to veto a resolution ending U.S. involvement in the brutal Yemen civil war even before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent it to his desk. But a diverse group of lawmakers — including some of the president's strongest allies — think they can convince him to put down the veto pen and sign it into law.

They just have to get a meeting first.

The group thinks it can convince Trump that his base isn’t so wild about foreign conflicts. If that fails, they’re going to argue that continuing to support Saudi Arabia in the conflict, which has killed an estimated 7,000 civilians and left millions on the brink of famine, is just wrong.

“The president’s a dove. He has dovish tendencies,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told VICE News just off the House floor. “I think that if we get some time with him, we can make our argument about how the war in Yemen runs afoul of the Trump doctrine.”

The effort includes some high-profile conservative senators who will make the argument to Trump that he will be ideologically consistent if he agrees to stop sending military hardware to the region.

“I think if we get to the president, we can convince him. The question is whether his advisers are going to block it”

“I think there is a part of the president who thinks we’ve been at war too long and in too many places — he’s talked about bringing troops home from Syria, he’s talked about bringing troops home from Afghanistan,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who signed the letter along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). “They have already disengaged a little bit. They are no longer refueling, so I think we’ve already had an impact, but we’re hoping to have more.”

Gaetz, Paul and Lee are from the libertarian to tea party wing of the GOP and they’re teaming up with progressives in asking for face time with Trump. But their Democratic partners aren’t nearly as optimistic as they are.

“I think if we get to the president, we can convince him. The question is whether all of his advisers are going to block it,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), before joining Pelosi for the War Powers Act signing ceremony at the Capitol. “I can’t convince [National Security Advisor John] Bolton. Bolton’s been wrong on every single foreign policy issue for the last 30 years – he’s like the perpetual ghost who haunts American foreign policy.”

Punishing Saudi Arabia

The movement to end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the administration is banning 16 individuals from entering the U.S. who were implicated in the torture and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last fall.

But that’s not good enough for many lawmakers in both parties, because the intelligence community has reportedly concluded that the operation was led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (or MBS), even though the administration has failed to send Congress a formal assessment of his role in the killing.

That’s why many Democrats who didn’t sign the bipartisan letter are calling for Congress to do more to punish the Saudi regime.

“Everybody knows that MBS is responsible, so you either have to have accountability to him personally or to the regime. Holding accountable the individuals that he hands you on a silver platter is not enough,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told VICE News while riding an elevator in the Capitol.

In October Congress triggered the Magnitsky Act of 2012, which requires the administration to send Congress a report on the killing within 120 days, which the administration has failed to do. That’s why Murphy is calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up sanctions legislation aimed at Saudi leaders like MBS, because he says the Trump administration needs to feel more pressure from Congress.

“They’re out of compliance with the law, but we also aren’t doing anything to hold them accountable,” Murphy said. “At some point, we’ve got to stop talking about accountability legislation for Saudi Arabia and pass something.”

While the bipartisan group waits for a response from Trump, others are hoping the president will consider the lasting precedent that could be set if the United States allows an ally to kill journalists at will.

“We’ve put this so-called alliance with the Saudis above any sense of justice and moral values,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “I think they still have a of answers to give, and we have no business militarily or diplomatically supporting a regime that betrays our values.”

Cover image: Yemeni female students protest against targeting civilians inside al-Raai school on April 08, 2019 in Sana'a, Yemen. Al-Raai school located in Sana'a was affected by airstrikes hitting a nearby warehouse with a loss of life and many injuries on Sunday. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)