World

U.S. House votes to end support for Yemen war, but Trump likely to veto

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted to end American involvement in the Yemen war, rebuffing the Trump administration's support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia.

Congress invokes decades-old War Powers Resolution for 1st time

Thousands of people have been killed during the Saudi-led war in Yemen, with millions on the brink of starvation. (Naif Rahma/Reuters)

Rejecting a plank of U.S. President Donald Trump's foreign policy, the House of Representatives on Thursday invoked never-before-used powers to demand that his administration withdraw support from the Saudi-led war in Yemen. 

 The Senate passed the same resolution in March with bipartisan support.

Trump is expected to issue a veto of the measure — his second as president — and Congress does not have the votes to override him. The White House says the bill raises "serious constitutional concerns."

But the action was nonetheless a milestone for lawmakers, who have shown a renewed willingness to assert their war-making powers after letting them atrophy for decades under presidents from both parties.

"The president will have to face the reality that Congress is no longer going to ignore its constitutional obligations when it comes to foreign policy," said Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said the humanitarian crisis in Yemen triggered by the war "demands moral leadership."

War at stalemate

Yemen was plunged into a civil war in September 2014, when rebels known as Houthis swept into the capital and overthrew the country's internationally recognized government. The Saudi-led coalition began fighting the rebels months later in a campaign that Saudi Arabia said was aimed at curbing Iranian influence. At the time, the Houthis were allied with forces backed by Iran; in the years that followed, Iran's role in the conflict has grown.

The conflict has been a bloody stalemate for years. Thousands have been killed in Saudi airstrikes on civilian infrastructure, and millions are on the brink of starvation. The war has devastated the economy of Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country. The vast majority of the population cannot afford food to eat.

The United Nations has called the situation in Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Cholera is also surging in Yemen, with the United Nations reporting that the number of suspected cases has doubled in March over previous months.

By a 247-175 vote, Congress for the first time invoked the decades-old War Powers Resolution to try and stop a foreign conflict.

Two lawmakers who have led the charge, Senators Chris Murphy, a Democrat, and independent Bernie Sanders have displayed photos of emaciated Yemeni children when they have given speeches on the Senate floor.

'A moral stain on this nation'

"This is a moral stain on this nation, every day that we continue to take part in this war," Murphy said after Thursday's vote.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican who championed the measure, said it "is long past time that we end U.S. involvement in this unauthorized, unjustified, and immoral war that has caused immense human suffering."

But Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the measure "does nothing to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen."

He argued the lawmakers were abusing the authority under the War Powers Resolution, which was enacted in 1973.

"This radical interpretation has implications far beyond Saudi Arabia," McCaul said. He warned that the measure could "disrupt U.S. security co-operation agreements with more than 100 countries."

An elderly woman is treated for suspected cholera infection at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, on March 28, 2019. Cholera is surging once more in Yemen, with more than 76,000 suspected new cases and 195 deaths in March, double the number in the previous two months, according to UN figures. (Hani Mohammed/The Associated Press)

Opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen gathered support last year in the aftermath of the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post columnist was killed in October by agents of the kingdom, a close U.S. partner, while he was in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

U.S. intelligence agencies and lawmakers believe that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who had written articles critical of the kingdom.

Lawmakers from both parties have scrutinized U.S.-Saudi ties and criticized Trump for not condemning Saudi Arabia strongly enough.

A resolution to withdraw U.S. support from the war passed the Senate in December, and was revived this year after Democrats took the House majority.

Final passage Thursday came despite a procedural gambit from House Republicans related to support for Israel, an issue that has been a point of tension for Democrats in recent months.

GOP leaders proposed adding language condemning the international boycott movement against Israel.

Democrats called the amendment a ploy to kill the Yemen resolution and rallied against it.

"This is about politics, this is about trying to drive a wedge into this caucus where it does not belong," said Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, to applause from other party members.

As the resolution headed to the White House, supporters in both parties made a final plea for Trump to sign it. A letter signed by Lee, Sanders, Sen. Rand Paul, and members of the House cited Trump's desire to avoid "costly and never-ending conflicts across the globe."

By signing the resolution, the lawmakers wrote, the president could "set a new precedent" and take on "entrenched opposition to foreign-policy restraint."

Asked about the resolution late Thursday, Trump was noncommittal.

"I'll take a look at it," he told reporters at the White House.

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