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Bipartisan Effort Fails to Rein in U.S. Military Involvement in Yemen

President Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office on March 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — As President Trump met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman today, the Senate shot down an effort from some lawmakers to use the War Powers Resolution to stop U.S. involvement in the Yemen war.

The resolution from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) would have given Trump 30 days to pull back any U.S. troops in Yemen or “affecting” the war. The vote was 55-44 to table the resolution.

Republicans siding with Lee were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The Yemen civil war has been raging since March 2015, with the U.S.-backed Saudis supporting the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and Iran and Hezbollah backing the Houthi rebels — this while al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula controls a large chunk in the center of the Mideast country. More than 5,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting and more than 3 million Yemenis have been displaced.

The U.S. has been supplying the Saudis with arms and intelligence, and the arrangement that started under President Obama hasn’t shown signs of abating as Trump enjoys a warm relationship with Riyadh.

“The power to declare war belongs to Congress,” Lee said after the vote. “By tabling this measure today, we have chosen yet again to abdicate our constitutional responsibility.”

Sanders echoed the sentiment, saying he was “deeply disappointed that Congress has once again abdicated its constitutional responsibility to authorize war.”

“Time and time again, Congress has sat back and failed to ask the hard questions as various administrations have misled us into conflicts, including Vietnam and Iraq, with disastrous consequences,” Sanders said. “The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, with U.S. support, has been a humanitarian disaster. Instead of supplying bombs and refueling capabilities, we should be doing everything possible to create a peaceful resolution to that civil war and provide humanitarian help.”

At a White House lunch for the visiting Saudi delegation, Trump touted the kingdom’s promise of $400 billion in arms purchases from the U.S. and called the bilateral relationship “probably the strongest it’s ever been — we understand each other.”

“Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs and in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world. There’s nobody even close. As I said before, when it comes to the missiles and the planes and all of the military equipment, there is nobody that even comes close to us in terms of technology and the quality of the equipment,” Trump said. “And Saudi Arabia appreciates that. They’ve done tests of everything, and they appreciate it, and they understand it very well, probably better than most.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued on the Senate floor this morning that a vote to end U.S. involvement in Yemen would be a vote to embolden Iran.

“Withdrawing U.S. support would increase, not decrease, the risk of civilian casualties. And it would signal that we are not serious about containing Iran or its proxies. The Houthi presence would continue threatening shipping lanes in the Red Sea. Iranian missiles would continue threatening Riyadh. And Iran would be further emboldened,” McConnell said.

“That’s why the goal of this resolution is bad policy. But my colleagues’ resolution is also procedurally mistaken,” he added. “The expedited authorities they wish to draw upon are meant for removing U.S. forces from actual participation in hostilities. But our support for the Saudi coalition has not caused us to enter active warfare or hostilities in Yemen. The Department of Defense and Secretary Mattis have made clear that U.S. forces are not engaged in exchanges of fire with hostile forces.”