WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday failed to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a resolution that would have required him to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The 53-to-45 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Trump’s veto, although supports quickly vowed to try to use other legislative tools to try to curb the U.S. role in Yemen.
The Yemen war powers measure, which passed the House and Senate earlier this spring, would have halted all intelligence and targeting assistance the U.S. currently provides to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Those countries have unleashed a deadly bombing campaign in Yemen.
“This is about … getting the blood off our hands,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a chief author of the measure along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah conservative.
Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders (L), Republican Senator from Utah Mike Lee (C), and Democratic Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy (R) leave a press conference after the Senate voted to end US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Dec. 13, 2018. It is the first time the US Senate has invoke the War Powers Act to end American involvement in a war. (Photo: JIM LO SCALZO, EPA-EFE)
Murphy and others noted that the war has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – killing more than 60,000 civilians and combatants and leaving more than 10 million Yemenis on the brink of starvation. An estimated 85,000 children have already died of starvation because of the conflict, according to Save the Children.
In the meantime, “the Saudi’s behavior has gotten more outrageous, has crossed more human rights lines, has compromised the safety of more American citizens,” said Murphy. Lawmakers have become particularly alarmed as the Saudi-led coalition dropped U.S.-made bombs on civilian targets, including one that hit a school bus and killed 40 children.
And the U.S. support for the Saudis has become increasingly untenable after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was killed by a team of Saudi operatives last fall.
The CIA has concluded that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was “complicit in that murder,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. ” … And yet President Trump said ‘Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t,’ and dismissed the whole thing.”
The Saudis have become more emboldened in the wake of Trump’s refusal to rebuke the kingdom, critics argued.
“Saudi Arabia beheaded 37 citizens” just last week, Van Hollen noted. And the government recently detained two U.S.-Saudi dual citizens for their work promoting women’s rights in the kingdom.
In his veto message, Trump called the resolution “an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities” and said it would “endanger the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.” The Yemen bill was the second veto of his presidency.
Trump and other Republicans have defended the U.S. role in Yemen, arguing that no American soldiers are on the ground in that Arab country and America’s support for Saudi Arabia was key to curbing Iran’s influence in the Middle East.
“An abrupt withdrawal would be good news for Iran,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in opening remarks on Thursday. “I share many of my colleagues’ serious concerns about aspects of Saudi Arabia’s behavior, but the best way for us to encourage better behavior from our partners is to remain involved with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. and not push them into the arms of Russia and China.”
The war in Yemen is a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as the two regimes battle for influence in the region. The four-year-old conflict began when Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, overthrew Yemen’s previous government. The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the U.S., launched a military campaign against the Houthis soon after.
Supporters of the Yemen war measure said Thursday’s vote was not the end of the debate. There are a gamut of other tools – such as restrictions on a federal defense spending bill – lawmakers can use to curb the U.S. role in an increasingly horrific conflict.
“I will not give up this fight,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., the chief author of the bill in the House. “Through this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Appropriations bill, and other forms of legislation, I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress, stakeholders, and the peace groups to cut off all U.S. participation in this war.”
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