The Hill – Democrats frustrated over the Trump administration’s support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s bloody civil war are plotting moves to curtail or cut off U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition.
A group of House Democrats is planning to introduce a resolution under the War Powers Act that would withdraw U.S. forces from the war.
By invoking the War Powers Act, the resolution becomes “privileged,” meaning Democrats could force a vote on it.
“The Saudis deliberately bombed a bus full of children. There is only one moral answer, and that is to end our support for their intervention in Yemen,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who is leading the House effort, said on Twitter this week. “If this executive will not do it, then Congress must pass a War Powers Resolution.”
Frustration rose this week with the administration after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking steps to end the war, alleviate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and protect civilians.
Pompeo is required to do so under this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order for the U.S. military to continue to refuel coalition aircraft.
Pompeo announced Wednesday he made the certification, saying the Saudis and Emiratis are “undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.”
While Democrats had already planned their War Powers resolution before Pompeo’s move, it only bolstered their resolve.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who co-sponsored the NDAA provision requiring the certification alongside Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), said the administration is “deliberately sidestepping congressional oversight” with a certification that does not follow the benchmarks the law established.
In the memo to Congress announcing the certification, the administration argued the coalition has taken steps to reduce the risk to civilians by paying for U.S. training for the Saudi air force, incorporating some U.S. recommendations into its rules of engagement and developing a no-strike list.
It acknowledged some problems, stating that “recent civilian casualty incidents indicate insufficient implementation of reforms and targeting practices. Investigations have not yet yielded accountability measures.”
The memo also says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are complying with U.S. laws on arms sales “with rare exception,” without elaborating on the exceptions.
In a press briefing Thursday, the State Department defended Pompeo’s certification.
“We see them taking steps,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “Is it perfect? No, absolutely not. Do we see them doing what they can to mitigate civilian casualties? Absolutely, we do.”
Senate staffers said this week that Shaheen is considering follow-up legislative efforts in light of the shortfalls she sees in the certification, but added it is too early to discuss details. They also noted the law has more certification requirements, 180 days and 360 days after the NDAA’s enactment.
Civil war in Yemen has raged since 2015, when Houthi rebels overran the capital of Sanaa, and Saudi Arabia, concerned about Iran’s support for the rebels, formed a coalition to intervene on behalf of the internationally recognized government.
The latest United Nations (U.N.) effort to negotiate a peace faltered last week when the Houthis did not attend meetings in Geneva. After that, the coalition resumed its offensive on the key port city of Hodeida, which the U.N. warned this week could lead to “incalculable human cost”
The United States supports the Saudi effort with aerial refueling, intelligence sharing and billions of dollars in arms sales.
At least 6,660 civilians have been killed in the war as of Aug. 23, according to the latest U.N. figures. The death toll has largely been blamed on coalition airstrikes.
Kate Gould, legislative director for Middle East policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the lobbying arm of the Quakers, said she expects the next Senate action on Yemen will be when the Trump administration officially notifies Congress of its intent to sell precision guided munitions to the Saudis.
At that point, she said, she thinks there is a “huge opportunity” to get a majority of senators to vote to block the sale.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been delaying the sale for months. While it is unusual for the administration to override such a hold, Gould said she could see the notification in the lame-duck session after the midterms.
The Friends Committee is also making a “big push” on the House Democrats’ War Powers resolution, Gould said. The committee has heard from congressional offices that were not engaged on Khanna’s last Yemen effort after the administration’s “cynical” certification, she added.
Khanna previously tried to force a vote on a War Powers resolution last year, but negotiated with Democratic and Republican leadership to instead get a vote on a nonbinding resolution that called U.S. military involvement in the war unauthorized. That resolution passed.
A spokeswoman for Khanna said Friday he plans to introduce the latest resolution next week. Though the House is in recess next week, there are two pro forma sessions Monday and Thursday when legislation can be introduced.
Because the House is planning to be in recess for most of October, that would put a vote on the resolution in November.
Khanna’s latest effort is being co-led by Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“We’re going to introduce it and continue to push forward because I don’t agree with the secretary’s assessment,” Smith told The Hill this week. “If you look at the humanitarian crisis and the impacts of the blockade and the school bus that was bombed … it certainly doesn’t seem to me like Saudi Arabia is doing the job they should be doing by trying to bring that to a peaceful resolution.”