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Rebuking Trump, House votes to end US involvement in Yemen

Washington, DC – The House of Representative passed a resolution on Wednesday that would end US support for the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen, a strong rebuke to US President Donald Trump.

The measure, which was passed by 241-177 vote, will now go to the Senate where it enjoys broad support among Democrats and key Republicans. The Senate passed a similar measure in December, but that bill died when Congress adjourned for the year.

“Nearly all of the bombs that have fallen say the same thing, `Made in the United States of America’, ” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

“They fall on weddings. They fall on hospitals and on homes. They fall on funerals, refugee camps and school buses,” he added. “It is an aerial bombing campaign that hammers civilians every single day.”

Two amendments were added to the resolution before the final vote. The first allows for continued intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia, and the second condemns anti-Semitism and declares it’s the policy of the US to oppose trade boycotts against allies such as Israel.

The bill invokes the 1973 War Powers Act, which gave Congress the ability to end US involvement in a conflict if there was no formal declaration of war.

Trump veto?

If the bill passes the Senate, it faces a likely veto by Trump, who avoided any mention of Yemen in his State of the Union address last week and whose administration has escalated tensions with Iran.

US politicians backing the resolution would need two-thirds support in both chambers of Congress in order to overturn a presidential veto. 

But House Republicans are backing the administration’s position on the conflict in Yemen, which is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

“If this resolution passes, we are emboldening Iran to continue its nefarious adventures in the region,” Republican Representative Lee Zeldin said prior to the vote.

The Trump administration maintains that because US military support to Saudi Arabia has been limited to aerial refueling, intelligence sharing and logistics support, the president is acting within his authority under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act and to help an ally, according to a February 11 statement by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

“Unfortunately, the resolution is misguided because United States armed forces are currently not engaged in hostilities in Yemen and it’s not clear what the resolution would accomplish,” Republican Congressman Tom Cole said. “The president is operating well within his rights.”

The OMB added that “in addition to [the bill’s] erroneous premise, the joint resolution would harm bilateral relationships in the region, negatively affect our ability to prevent the spread of violent extremist organisations – such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS in Yemen.”

Pressure over Khashoggi’s murder

There has been renewed focus on the US role in Yemen after the October murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

After offering several contradictory statements, the Saudi kingdom confirmed that its agents killed the writer inside its consulate in Istanbul, but denied that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was involved despite reports that the CIA concluded the de facto Saudi leader ordered the murder.

“I don’t think it’s a done deal that Trump is going to veto it. It’s an uphill battle,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who sponsored the anti-war resolution.

Khanna is seeking support from Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of Trump who was outraged by the killing of Khashoggi. Support from Graham could help tip the balance in favour of the bill in the Senate, Khanna told Al Jazeera. 

“I am going to make the case to him, given his strong comments on Khashoggi and moral disapproval of the Saudi regime, that this is one of the ways we can collectively signal our moral approbation, our moral opprobrium on the Saudis,” Khanna added.

Most House Republicans voted against Wednesday’s resolution and instead urged passage of legislation providing military aid to Israel, cooperation with Jordan, sanctions on Syria and an anti-BDS bill. The Middle East security policy bill, which does not include language on Yemen, passed the Senate earlier this month. Democrats in the House have planned committee hearings on the Senate bill.

The US suspended in-flight aerial refueling for Saudi and UAE combat jets in November 2018.

The OMB February 11 statement said the Trump administration is supporting “diplomatic negotiations to end the conflict and promote humanitarian access, mitigate civilian casualties, enhance efforts to recover United States hostages in Yemen and defeat terrorists who seek to harm the United States.”

More than 10,000 civilians have been killed during the war in Yemen, according to the United Nations, though rights groups estimate the total number of deaths is much higher. 

The country, which has suffered an outbreak of cholera, is also on the brink of famine. According to UN data, 18 million Yemeni civilians face potential famine with nearly three million women and children “acutely malnourished.”

Representatives of Yemen’s warring parties met earlier this month on a ship in the Red Sea to discuss a stalled truce agreement that would allow humanitarian aid to flow through the port of Hodeidah.

“This is going to put huge pressure on the Saudi’s to come to the peace table,” Khanna said.