The Republican-led Senate voted for the second time to end the American role in Yemen’s war on Wednesday – a sign of continuing concern over the impact of the Saudi-led intervention and persistent frustration with the Trump administration’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia.
The resolution, which passed by a vote of 54 to 46, directs President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. forces from “hostilities” in the Saudi-led intervention, which the resolution’s backers interpret to include intelligence sharing and mid-air refueling.
“It’s a historical vote,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who sponsored the bill, told The Intercept. “We’re going to help end a war which has caused unbelievable horror to one of the poorest countries on earth. We should not be following the lead of a despotic, murderous regime like Saudi Arabia.” He added that “Congress is reasserting its constitutional responsibilities to be the body that determines war issues, not give it up to any president.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who voted against the measure, said he was concerned about the humanitarian crisis but that there are “a lot of things the United States does to help our friends and allies [that are] not lethal,” including intelligence sharing, fueling, and logistical support. “I think [former Defense Secretary James] Mattis pointed out that a lot of what we were doing was actually avoiding collateral damage. Something that the Saudis, left to their own devices, were not as good at as we are. But more than anything, I would hope that the peace process takes hold there.” Asked whether he saw the resolution as a mechanism to rebuke Saudi Arabia for murdering Jamal Khashoggi, Cornyn said: “Not really. I kind of keep both of those separate.”
Heading into the vote, Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said “there are good arguments on both sides,” adding that he wanted to talk to colleagues before making a decision. Kennedy ultimately voted against the measure.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told The Intercept he voted against the bill because he’s “not a big War Powers fan,” and that while he’s “against MBS,” as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is known, he wanted to “sanction him in another way,” referencing a separate bill he’s working on with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Under House and Senate rules, the resolution has enjoyed “privileged” status, meaning it can bypass a committee vote on its way to the floor. The resolution has been passed in different forms, first by the Senate in the last Congress, and by the House earlier this year. But it continues to be held up largely by Congressional Republicans’ procedural tricks.
Last year, to stop it from passing the House, Republicans quietly slipped language “de-privileging” the resolution into a measure advancing a bill about wolves – and succeeded in stopping it for the time being. And just before it passed the House last month, Congressional Republicans succeeded in attaching language about anti-Semitism – widely seen as a subtle dig at Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Senate Republicans then used that language as an excuse to de-privilege that version before the Senate.
The version that passed the Senate Wednesday was an attempt to restart the process without tricks. The resolution must now be taken up again by House Democrats.
And Progressive Democrats in the House, led by Rep. Ro Khanna of California — the bill’s sponsor in the House — are eager to do just that. “Our office is working with leadership and the [Congressional Progressive Caucus] to finalize a date of when we will pass the Senate [War Powers Resolution] and send it to the president’s desk,” Heather Purcell, Khanna’s communications director, told The Intercept by email.