WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators joined their House colleagues in voting to cut off U.S. military support in Yemen’s civil war, a rebuke of President Donald Trump and a challenge to his authority to deploy U.S. forces without going to Congress.
The legislation, which passed by a vote of 54 to 46, is also viewed by many as a direct reprimand of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for what U.S. intelligence agencies have reported was his role in overseeing the brutal slaughter of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Some opponents argue the Yemen war has nothing to do with Khashoggi, but proponents disagree.
“This is a direct response to the Khashoggi killing,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), an original sponsor of the resolution, told reporters in the Capitol. “The Yemen war is Mohammed bin Salman’s baby. It’s his top priority in the region. By ending our participation with this war, we are making a clear statement that we don’t trust this regime anymore.”
Supporters are cheering the historic effort by Congress to reassert its constitutional power to declare foreign wars by invoking the Wars Powers Resolution of 1973, an effort that grew in earnest at the end of the last Congress when the Senate passed this measure, though it was blocked from a vote by former Speaker Paul Ryan.
The House has already passed a similar measure but the Senate version is a little different, so it has to pass that chamber again before it will be sent to President Trump who has vowed to veto it.
Trump has taken the side of Saudi Arabia and argued the billion dollar arm deals with the U.S. ally is more important than the slaughter of Khashoggi, which is why many senators say they had to go over the president’s head.
“It’s a clear message to Saudi Arabia that we are not going to put up with this past approach that they’ve used with the United Stated,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Minority Whip, told VICE News. “For a lot of us their money doesn’t count.”
While several Republicans supported the resolution, a large block sided with Trump even though they still wanted to rebuke the crown prince for his alleged role in the killing. Some opponents argue it was too narrow.
“The resolution as it’s drawn does not assign the appropriate responsibility to Iran,” Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told VICE News.
The legislation was supported by every Democrat, and was also sponsored by Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah who says the legislation is an important step for Congress as an institution.
“Today we have the opportunity to reassert Congress’ constitutional role over declaring war and over putting American blood and treasure on the line,” Lee said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “The evidence is clear that we ought not be involved in this unconstitutional, unjustified and ultimately immoral war.”
Many lawmakers are also up in arms because its estimated that more than 85,000 children have starved to death since the conflict began, while another 14 million Yemeni people are reportedly starving. Supporters are also angry with Saudi officials for using American weapons to target civilians, including schools, homes and businesses.
“Why is this administration so enamored with a regime that, yes they live in a dangerous neighborhood, but clearly has not been able to utilize some of our best military technology in ways that it was meant to be used?” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told VICE News. “You can target your adversaries and not take out civilians at unprecedented levels.”
But Trump’s taking the crown prince’s word over that of senior intelligence officials seemed to galvanize support in the Senate from lawmakers who remain appalled by the killing and the administration’s handling of it. Senators are also frustrated that the administration has still refused to send the Senate a certification of who U.S. intelligence officials have determined killed Khashoggi.
“It’s just flouting the Congress,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “There is a pattern in this White House to believe they can do anything without [Congress].”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are now hoping this resolution’s passage will change that pattern from the Trump administration and force them to take Congress’ role in foreign policy much more seriously.
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House, on March 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Bech, Fla. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)