Oops: House Democrats Mistakenly Cast Votes Blocking Resolution on Ending Yemen War

On Wednesday, six House Democrats voted with the GOP to prevent any action on the Yemen war this legislative session. Two said they did it by accident.

A'man walk past debris after an airstrike hit the presidential compound in Sanaa, Yemen, 07 May 2018. According to government officials at least six people died and 30 more were wounded, when an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen's rebels hit the building. Photo by: Hani Al-Ansi/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
A man walk past debris after an airstrike hit the presidential compound in Sanaa, Yemen, on May 7, 2018. Photo: ani Al-Ansi/picture-alliance/AP

In a political maneuver that was equal parts bizarre and grimly predictable, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill moved yet again on Wednesday to block a vote to wind down U.S. military support for the war in Yemen, this time by tucking a parliamentary procedure into a rule governing legislation that removes gray wolves from the endangered species list.

The measure narrowly passed with a 201-187 vote, making it more difficult for the House to take action on the war in Yemen this legislative session.

What’s more, several of the co-sponsors of the Yemen resolution to end the war either voted to advance the wolf bill or abstained from the vote entirely, meaning that they played a part in preventing their own bill from reaching the House floor.

Adding to the confusion, two of the six House Democrats who joined Republicans in beating back the Yemen bill have told The Intercept that they cast their votes in error.

“Mr. Vela’s vote was actually mistake – we are in the process of changing it,” wrote Mickeala Carter, a spokesperson for Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, who voted for the rule that prevented the Yemen vote.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., is a co-sponsor of the Yemen legislation, which invokes the 1973 War Powers Act to compel the Trump administration to remove U.S. forces from “hostilities” related to the Saudi Arabia-led intervention. Eshoo voted for the measure blocking her own resolution from reaching the floor, a move that puzzled human rights advocates.

“She is a cosponsor of the Resolution and made a mistake on the vote,” wrote Emma Crisci, a spokesperson for Eshoo’s office, in an email to The Intercept. “The Congresswoman is submitting a statement for the Congressional Record saying that she made a mistake in voting and meant to vote NO on the rule.”

Four other House Democrats — Reps. Gene Green and Vicente González of Texas, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Jim Costa of California — also voted for the rule to prevent the Yemen bill from reaching the floor, and did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation to wind down the war in Yemen in October. Buck was selected by GOP leadership this cycle to serve on the House Rules Committee, a powerful post that determines the fate of legislation. Curiously, Buck abstained from the House Rules Committee vote on the rule undercutting his own bill when leadership moved to combine the provision curbing the Yemen vote with the wolf legislation, and then voted in favor of the rule when it reached the floor on Wednesday. Buck also did not respond to a request for comment.

Congress never authorized U.S. support for the war in Yemen, but the American military provides backing for the bloody conflict, which has taken more than 10,000 lives and threatens more than 14 million people with imminent famine.

As the crisis worsens, human rights activists continue to urge an end to the war.

Last week, the U.S. military said it would discontinue refueling coalition warplanes bombing Yemen. But the United States continues to play a pivotal role in the war, providing U.S.-manufactured arms and logistical support to UAE and Saudi forces occupying Yemen and blockading the country’s ports.

David Segal, a co-founder of the activist group Demand Progress, said that Eshoo’s “mistaken vote was unfortunate,” but that she “should be applauded for co-sponsorship of the underlying resolution, and she will hopefully have the opportunity to vote to end our involvement in the war on Yemen through another War Powers Resolution in coming months.”

Segal, however, noted that several of the Democrats voting with the Republican majority to kill the Yemen bill this session have long supported the conflict. Green, for example, voted in 2016 to support the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, and has been “more complicit than the average Democrat in the decimation of Yemen,” Segal said.

Segal has long advocated on the issue. He previously served in the Rhode Island state legislature, where he pressed Textron, the defense contractor that once manufactured cluster munitions, on ending the development of the weapon.

Still, when the new class of House Democrats elected in the midterms this year takes office in January, the lead sponsors of the Yemen resolution plan to reintroduce the bill, which now has the support of much of House Democratic leadership.

Correction: November 16, 2018, 5:45 p.m. 
An earlier version of this article stated that the Wednesday vote meant that the House could no longer take action on Yemen this legislative session. In fact, the vote made legislative action more difficult, but not impossible. 

Join The Conversation