Senators To Force Vote On Ending US Support For Saudi War In Yemen

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on a bipartisan resolution that would withdraw U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, a move ardently opposed by the White House and top Pentagon officials.

The vote coincides with a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the architect of his country’s war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the war powers resolution aims to immediately end all U.S. military intervention in Yemen that is not specifically directed against al-Qaeda or “associated forces.”

Supporters of the resolution argue that U.S. involvement in the Yemen war is not covered by any existing Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and therefore requires Congressional approval to continue.

“The U.S. government claims that it’s not engaged in hostilities unless U.S. troops are on the ground being shot at by the enemy,” Lee said on the Senate floor earlier in March, according to The Washington Post. “It stretches the imagination, and it stretches the English language beyond its breaking point to suggest the U.S. military is not engaged in hostilities in Yemen.”

U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen includes refueling for fighter jets carrying out air strikes, along with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support. The Trump administration, like its predecessor, insists such involvement doesn’t require Congressional authorization.

Senators are using a mechanism known as a privileged resolution to bring the war powers measure, known as Joint Resolution 54, to a floor vote. The procedure allows them to overcome the objections of other lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls what is brought to the Senate floor.

A vote on the war powers resolution during bin Salman’s visit would be awkward for both the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers. Trump is trying to finalize a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia that was put on hold over concerns about terrorist financing, while Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, is scheduled to meet with the crown prince on Capitol Hill this week.

Because of the timing, McConnell and other Republican leaders in the Senate are trying to postpone the resolution until after bin Salman’s visit by sending it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I hope what will happen is that we will not in our haste make a mistake that we’ll come to regret,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas, according to The Hill.

At bin Salman’s direction, Saudi Arabia has continued a brutal bombing campaign against Houthi rebels who overthrew Yemen’s Saudi-friendly government in 2014. The war has turned into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises since the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes –more than 10,000 people have been killed and millions more are at risk of widespread famine and disease.

Despite widespread concern over civilian casualties, the White House and the Pentagon insist that continued support for the Saudi air war is in U.S. strategic interests. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned lawmakers earlier in March that cutting U.S. military assistance would risk Washington’s relationship with Riyadh and embolden Iran.

“New restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis,” Mattis wrote in a letter to Senate leaders.

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Lee, one of a small contingent of Republican lawmakers calling for more oversight of U.S. military intervention abroad, says his resolution seeks to reassert Congress’ role in the war-making process.

“If the Pentagon insists on perpetuating a senseless, unauthorized war first launched by President Obama … to appease Saudi Arabia, the White House must persuade majorities of the House and Senate to approve of U.S. hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis,” Lee tweeted Monday.

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