What do Sens. Mike Lee and Bernie Sanders have in common? They both want the U.S. to end its involvement in the civil war in Yemen.
For the last four years, Yemen has been caught in a bloody civil war between the Yemeni government and an Islamic armed group called the Houthis, along with their allies like ISIS and Al Qaeda. More than 60,000 people have died — some 120 civilians each week. Many more are suffering in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis of today, with 14 million people now at risk of starvation.
Saudi Arabia has jumped into the fight, leading a coalition of nations to prop up the current government through military actions, including airstrikes and bombing. There are allegations by the U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner that Saudis are also engaged in committing war crimes against the people of Yemen.
The United States has supported those efforts during both the Obama and Trump administrations but without a Congressional declaration of war.
Since the brutal October murder of Jamal Khashoggi, presumably ordered by Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, U.S. public sentiment towards Saudi Arabia has cooled considerably, although the current administration remains undeterred in its support.
House Joint Resolution 37, introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., passed on Feb. 13 on a largely partisan vote, 248-177. Only one Utah Congressman voted to end U.S. support for the war: Congressman Ben McAdams. If enacted, this resolution would prevent the U.S. from “fighting in or assisting” in the war, beginning 30 days after passage.
A companion version was introduced in the Senate as Senate Joint Resolution 7 by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. Sen. Mike Lee is a co-sponsor. A December 2018 vote on a similar bill during the last Congress passed 56-41 but the House refused to hold a vote in 2018.
Those in favor of this set of bills argue that U.S. involvement in the war is unconstitutional, as it lacks explicit congressional authorization and supports a nation that does not share U.S. values. It has also resulted in starvation, torture and death for many tens of thousands of Yemeni citizens.
Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, said in a press release that “Congress needs to reclaim its Article I war-making authority. The military should not be used to engage in unauthorized wars or conduct operations, for which a clear mission has not been articulated and approved by Congress."
Opponents to these bills believe that continued military involvement in Yemen serves our national interests and in a move that scuttled its ability to be heard in the Senate, Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tennessee, attached an unrelated amendment at the last minute, allowing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to hold the bill. Without that amendment, the Senate could have held a vote without his approval.
Some in Congress are proposing defunding the Saudi-backed coalition. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, introduced an amendment to the 2019 Defense Appropriations bill that would have cut off funding for the coalition at least until the Pentagon could certify that no war crimes were being committed. The amendment never came to a vote.
During the Vietnam war era, Congress effectively withdrew from the fight by defunding the war efforts. The time has come to do the same in Yemen.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.