In a stinging rebuke to the Trump administration’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia, the House of Representatives passed a resolution directing the administration to remove U.S. forces from supporting the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
The measure, which passed by a vote of 248-177, is one of the first major pieces of legislation approved by the Democratic House. It is a significant achievement for the progressive wing of the party, whose members have long argued in favor of cutting off military support for Saudi Arabia.
The resolution, which invokes the 1973 War Powers Act, directs President Donald Trump to remove U.S. forces from “hostilities” in the Saudi-led intervention against an Iranian-backed rebel group in Yemen. In both the Trump and Obama administrations, the U.S. has provided weapons, targeting intelligence, and mid-air refueling support for the Saudi-led coalition.
A Republican-sponsored amendment, passed Wednesday, weakened the resolution slightly by allowing continued intelligence sharing with the coalition. The amendment, which passed by a vote of 252-177, allows the U.S. to continue sharing intelligence with foreign powers “if the President determines such sharing is appropriate.”
Under House and Senate rules, the resolution enjoys “privileged” status, meaning that it can bypass a committee vote. The Republican-held Senate passed a similar resolution in December by a vote of 56-41, but with a new Congress, the Senate will have to pass it again to send it to Trump’s desk. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has promised to bring it up for another vote.
Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who sponsored the resolution, told The Intercept that the vote was a “historic” assertion of Congress checking war powers.
“This has never happened before — since 1973. It’s Congress reasserting our role in matters of war and peace,” Khanna said. “It’s a major signal to the Saudis to end the war.”
When the House first considered the measure in 2017, it was championed by progressives like Khanna but opposed by Democratic leadership. When supporters reintroduced the measure in September, it had the backing of a number of top Democrats, including Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. The explosion of anger surrounding the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October drew members from both sides of the aisle, many of whom saw it as a way to hold Saudi leadership accountable.
Humanitarian groups have held the Saudi-led coalition partially responsible for creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Since the war broke out in 2015, coalition warplanes have bombed food sources, water infrastructure, and medical facilities, all while delaying or restricting the flow of food into the country.
On Wednesday, however, debate largely centered on whether it was appropriate for Congress to use the War Powers resolution to check the president’s power.
“The Congress has lost its grip on foreign policy, in my opinion, by giving too much deference to the executive branch,” Elliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday on the House floor. “Our job is to keep that branch in check, not to shrug our shoulders when they tell us to mind our own business.”
Republicans opposing the bill argued that it would embolden Iran and expressed concern that it could open the door to Congress scrutinizing other U.S. military alliances.
“This overreach has dangerous implications far beyond Saudi Arabia,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This approach will now allow any single member to use this privilege mechanism to second-guess U.S. security cooperation relationships with more than 100 countries throughout the world.”
Some progressive advocates welcomed that idea. “It’s no coincidence that progressives, both inside and outside Congress and across the country, drove the House of Representatives to invoke [the War Powers Resolution],” said Kate Kizer, policy director for the progressive group Win Without War. “This historic vote is just the opening salvo of building power behind progressive foreign policy.”
At the last minute, Republicans also managed to add language condemning anti-Semitism, an apparent shot at Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., for a Sunday tweet about the Israel lobby that critics said invoked anti-Semitic tropes.