WASHINGTON: US lawmakers voted Thursday to end military support for the bloody Saudi-led war in Yemen, dealing a harsh bipartisan rebuke to Donald Trump and taking the historic step of curtailing a president’s war-making powers.
The House of Representatives voted 247 to 175, with one congressperson voting present, to approve a resolution that directs the president “to remove the United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen” within 30 days.
The text cleared the Senate last month and now heads to Trump, who is expected to veto the legislation.
The White House has called the measure “flawed” and warned it would harm bilateral relations in the region, including with Saudi Arabia.
But the passage through Congress marked a historic milestone, as it was the first time in history that a measure invoking the 1973 War Powers Resolution will reach the president’s desk.
Democrats have argued that US involvement in the Saudi-led coalition — mainly through weapons and refuelling of aircraft — is unconstitutional without congressional authority.
Several lawmakers, like liberal Senator Bernie Sanders, have sought for years to reclaim US lawmakers’ powers over matters of war and peace.
“Today the Congress says we are taking that responsibility back, not just for Yemen but in the future as well,” Sanders, a lead author of the Yemen resolution and a 2020 presidential candidate, said after the House vote.
“The president will have to face the reality that Congress is no longer going to ignore its constitutional obligations with regard to foreign policy,” added House Foreign Affairs Committee chairperson Eliot Engel.
‘Food not bombs’
Sixteen House Republicans joined Democrats in defying Trump on Yemen, including some top Trump allies in Congress, conservatives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows.
Critics of the intervention warn that Saudi forces are likely using US weapons to commit atrocities in the four-year war.
“Nearly all the bombs that have fallen say the same thing: Made in the United States of America,” said House Democrat Jim McGovern.
The war in Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 14 million people at risk of famine.
The World Health Organization says about 10,000 people have been killed in the war between forces loyal to the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels. Rights groups say the death toll is far higher.
Sanders and others say Washington should shift its focus from military intervention to humanitarian assistance for Yemen.
“If we do not act decisively in helping them to rebuild their economy, provide them with humanitarian aid — provide food not bombs — the situation could become even worse,” Sanders said.
The resolution is a reminder that Congress has the legal ability to compel the removal of US military forces, absent a formal declaration of war.
It is also likely to trigger the second veto of Trump’s presidency. Last month he overrode a congressional resolution that aimed to reverse the border emergency he declared in order to secure more funding for his wall between the United States and Mexico.
The Yemen vote, and the rare bipartisanship at the heart of it, came as US lawmakers have escalated their opposition to Saudi Arabia after the October murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Republicans and Democrats alike have bristled over the White House’s apparent embrace of the kingdom and its leadership.
Some members of Congress have publicly stated that they suspect that powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly responsible for Khashoggi’s killing, based on the CIA’s conclusions.
But congressperson Michael McCaul, the top foreign affairs Republican, warned the resolution does “nothing” to address Yemen’s humanitarian crisis or deliver justice to Khashoggi’s family.
The non-profit International Crisis Group applauded the move by Congress and said that, given Trump’s veto threat, it should follow up by inserting a provision for pulling back US support into must-pass legislation such as a defence authorization bill.
“Neither the administration nor America’s Gulf partners should mistake the message conveyed by Congress’ unprecedented vote,” said ICG president Rob Malley.
“The United States’ patience for the Yemen war is coming to a rapid end. So too should the war itself.”