In a historic moment, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a war powers resolution directing American forces to end their involvement in the war in Yemen, clearing the final hurdle before the law is sent to the desk of President Donald Trump.
The 247-175 vote in favor of the resolution was a major legislative victory in a long battle for Congressman Ro Khanna and Senator Bernie Sanders, who first introduced their twin versions of the resolution more than a year ago.
House Democrats voted unanimously for the resolution and were joined by 16 Republicans.
Though Trump is likely to veto the resolution, Thursday’s vote marked the first time Congress has ever passed a war powers resolution aimed at ending military participation in an unauthorized war.
Before the final vote, Democratic members defeated what they said was a last-ditch attempt by Republicans opposed to the resolution to defeat it.
Republican Rep. Michael McCaul introduced an unrelated amendment condemning anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel.
The inclusion of the amendment would have forced the bill to go back to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have been able to prevent a final vote because the bill would lose its “privileged” status.
On Wednesday evening, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer condemned the expected move as a bad faith effort to derail the resolution.
“The Republicans know if they offer an amendment to this bill, it defeats it,” he said. “Twenty-two million people are at risk. I think it’s unconscionable that they would play games with this.”
A similar maneuver was successfully executed by Republicans in February, delaying the resolution’s final passage.
The U.S. has played a key role in supporting the Saudi-coalition, which intervened in the conflict in an effort to oust Houthi rebels from power and restore the country’s previous government.
The coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen has been condemned by the U.N. for indiscriminately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, resulting in possible war crimes.
1. Yemen, Sana'a, 11 November 2018. Wardah Fadel 2.1 kg 4 months. Wardah's parents, resident in Hodeidah, came to Sanaa to hospitalize her. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
2. Yemen, midway Sana'a to Hodeidah, 13 November 2018. WFP Executive Director David Beasley visiting Yemen. Here he is having a tea in the mountains midway Sana'a to Hodeidah. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
3. Yemen, Sana'a, 11 November 2018. WFP provides plumpy sup and supercereal to treat moderate acute malnutrition at the Al Sabeen maternal hospital. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
4. Yemen, Sana'a, 11 November 2018. Al Sabeen maternal hospital. Hesham Ali Abdullah (left) and his son Ali Yakya Ali (5) who is affected by severe acute malnutrition edematous which causes an excessive amount of water fluid in the tissues. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
5. Yemen, Sana'a, 11 November 2018. Yemeni children waiting for screening at the Al Sabeen maternal hospital where WFP provides plumpy sup and supercereal to treat moderate acute malnutrition. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
6. Yemen, Sana'a, 10 November 2018. A kid in old city Sanaa. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
In addition to facing mass-starvation, the Yemeni people have been subject to a massive cholera outbreak resulting from the coalition bombing of water treatment infrastructure.
The U.S. has supplied billions of dollars in high-tech weaponry that Saudi Arabia and its partners have used in the conflict, and U.S. personnel have worked closely with the coalition to assist in training, intelligence sharing, and targeting.
Democrats in favor of the resolution have argued that support for the coalition makes the U.S. complicit in what the U.N. has deemed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Khanna and Sanders had also charged their colleagues with “abdicating” their Constitutional responsibility to make decisions on war and peace, allowing the president to unilaterally decide when and where America goes to war.
Thursday’s vote was the culmination of a long, hard-fought, and sometimes emotionally charged campaign from the resolutions leading proponents, including Sanders, Khanna, Senator Chris Murphy, and Republican Senator Mike Lee.
Sanders’ resolution was initially defeated in a 55-44 vote in March of 2018, but the Senator told CBS in December that there was renewed support for the legislation after the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi put a political spotlight on the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
While the Senate ultimately passed Sanders’ resolution for the first time in December, then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan repeatedly refused to allow a vote on Khanna’s resolution in the House during the previous session, attaching clauses “de-privileging” it to unrelated, popular bills including one about wolf hunting and one about agriculture.
“They said if you wanted to hunt wolves – if you wanted to be for the hunting of wolves – then vote yes. And at the same time, you’re going to de-privilege this resolution,” Khanna told reporters following the move.
“This is why people hate Congress … We’ve never seen those kinds of shenanigans with a war powers resolution,” he added in an interview with Democracy Now.
But after Democrats took control of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled her support for the resolution, opening the door for the first vote on it in the House in February.
The bill passed easily in a 248-177 vote, but would face one last obstacle.
An unrelated amendment condemning anti-Semitism was attached to the bill by Republican Rep. David Kustoff which ultimately provided McConnell a justification to prevent what could have been a final vote in the Senate.
But McConnell could not stop Sanders from re-introducing his version of resolution and starting the process over again. His resolution passed the Senate for a second time in March, setting the stage for Thursday’s final vote.
What if any impact the resolution will have in Yemen remains unclear at this time.
According to Khanna, Congressional pressure has already changed the landscape of the war.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the Congressman said the momentum behind the resolution was a key driver of the Pentagon’s decision to suspend aerial refueling operations in November, which allowed coalition aircraft to stay in the air for longer and strike more targets.
In addition to claiming that the resolution is a “gift to Iran,” Republicans who opposed it argued that the resolution is moot.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis and other Pentagon officials have argued that U.S. military support for the coalition does not constitute “hostilities.”
And while Trump and other members of his administration have previously expressed opposition to the resolution, a veto -which would be only the second in Trump’s time as president – could be politically costly.
More on the Subject
As lawmakers prepared to vote on a resolution to end American involvement in the war in Yemen this week, humanitarian officials are warning that the country is on the brink of a near-apocalyptic disaster.
“The violence will have to stop. Unless it does, this country will become a country of living ghosts,” Abeer Etefa, the Senior Spokeswoman for the United Nations World Food Program, told The Globe Post.