Washington • The House voted Thursday to end U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war, denouncing a Saudi-led bombing campaign that has been blamed for worsening an already dire humanitarian crisis and sending the measure to President Donald Trump for an expected veto.
The vote was 247-175, with one member simply voting "present" and fell largely along party lines, reflecting how Democrats and Republicans remain divided over how to address Saudi Arabia's efforts to challenge Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran.
It illustrates, too, how lawmakers are split over addressing Trump’s embrace of Saudi leaders after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a crime for which members of both parties believe Saudi crown price Mohammed bin Salman bears responsibility.
The Senate passed this war powers resolution last month, with the support of seven Republicans. That bill was sponsored by Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy.
U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war began under President Barack Obama as an effort to share intelligence and provide logistical support, including aerial refueling, to the Saudi-led coalition. Though Trump halted the refueling mission late last year, his administration has defended other support for Saudi Arabia — including weapons sales — as necessary to check the spread of Iran’s influence in the region.
Not all Republicans agree with that argument, as evidenced by the fact that several influential GOP lawmakers are exploring proposals that would end weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia. But most congressional Republicans have objected to using a war-powers resolution to change U.S.-Saudi policy.
"The fundamental premise of this resolution is flawed because U.S. forces are not engaged in hostilities against the Houthis in Yemen," House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said on the House floor Thursday. "If we want to cut off economic assistance or logistic assistance to Saudi, there's a way to do that. . . . I think we're using the wrong vehicle here."
McCaul also objected to the fact that "the resolution stays silent on the role of Iran," saying such an omission "undermines the peace negotiations going on."
But for Democrats, the Iran argument is a red herring - and they see the war powers resolution as vital to reasserting Congress' right to dictate when and where the United States engages in military conflict, whether boots are on the ground.
"No blank checks any more. No blank checks to say that administration can run wars without getting the approval of Congress," House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said on the House floor Thursday. "We cannot just sit back and say, well you know we have difficulties with Iran so we're going to look the other way . . . No more war in which we're complicit where a wholesale population is starving."
Yemen's protracted civil war has left an estimated 20 million people at risk of starvation, and hundreds of thousands exposed to a cholera epidemic, as civilian sites - such as ports necessary to import humanitarian aid - have become targets in the conflict.
Previous attempts to curtail support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen fell short, until Khashoggi’s death inspired a handful of lawmakers on the fence about measures directly challenging U.S.-Saudi relations to back the war powers resolution.