Washington, DC – The Republican leadership in Congress has moved to stall until next year a broadly supported congressional resolution aimed at ending the United States‘ support for Saudi Arabia‘s bombing campaign in Yemen.
The move came as part of a tight procedural vote on Wednesday in the US House of Representatives on an $837bn, five-year agriculture bill.
Tucked within the rules governing the bill is a provision that says the War Powers Resolution, which fast-tracks certain bills, won’t apply to any resolution related to Yemen for the rest of this Congress.
The move will effectively block the House from taking up any bill on Yemen this year, even if one makes it through the Senate. The House is expected to pass the farm bill later on Wednesday.
The 206-203 House vote is a temporary win for President Donald Trump who has advanced a policy of US support for the Saudi Arabia in Yemen and its wider, regional standoff with Iran. Trump has avoided blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi while members of Congress say US intelligence clearly points to the Saudi leader.
Advocates of the resolution to end the US involvement in Yemen decried the Republican action.
“The only reason the leadership is doing this is because they know that there are dozens of Republicans who will stand with Democrats to stop the killing in Yemen,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, whose party will control the House in the newly elected Congress.
“I urge my colleagues to look at the pictures of five-year-old, seven-year-old kids starving to death. A Yemeni child is dying every 10 minutes. They tell us to wait until January. That would mean thousands of more Yemeni kids dead,” Khanna said.
The Khashoggi murder sparked outrage in Washington and brought renewed attention to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. CIA Director Gina Haspel, who travelled to Turkey to review evidence of the Khashoggi killing, briefed House leaders behind closed doors earlier on Wednesday.
House Republicans said a closed-door briefing by US secretaries of Defense and State scheduled for Thursday would give members of Congress an opportunity to review and discuss the situation in Yemen with senior Trump officials.
The House action on Wednesday effectively undercuts the debate over Yemen in the Senate where a bipartisan majority voted 63-47 earlier this month on a preliminary procedure to advance the measure blocking US military action in Yemen.
Outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is retiring from Congress, had said he would support the Trump White House and oppose the measure on Yemen.
Meanwhile, the Senate voted on Wednesday to move ahead with a resolution on Yemen. Any final vote in the Senate, however, would be seen as largely symbolic because of the House measure.
While some Republicans in the Senate are in favour of the Yemen resolution, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most other Republicans prefer senators vote on separate measures condemning Saudi Arabia for the Khashoggi murder and expressing non-binding sentiment against the US support for Saudi conduct of the war in Yemen.
“Members on both sides have legitimate concerns about the war in Yemen, about the US interest, and especially about the horrible plight of Yemeni citizens caught in the crossfire,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican whose party retains control of the Senate in the next Congress.
“I think every single member of this body shares grave concerns about the murder of Khashoggi and wants accountability. We also want to preserve a 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilises a dangerous and critical region,” McConnell said.
On November 9, the US military announced it was suspending aerial refuelling of Saudi and UAE jets engaged in bombings over Yemen. More than 10,000 civilians have died in the war, according to the United Nations. Rights groups and monitors estimate the death toll to be much higher.
The Yemen plan was offered in both chambers of Congress by proponents under rules established by the War Powers Act of 1973, a Vietnam War-era law designed to check the US president’s ability to deploy American forces without approval by Congress.