Obama, Heeding Close House Vote, Should Press Saudis to End Yemen War

On Thursday, June 16, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly failed to bar the transfer of U.S.-produced cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. The vote was on an amendment offered by Rep. John Conyers [D-MI]. The Obama Administration has acknowledged reports that Saudi Arabia has used U.S.-produced cluster bombs in civilian areas in its war in Yemen, in violation of U.S. law.

Human rights activists celebrated the closeness of the vote, the Intercept reports:

"This is a big deal for the U.S.-Saudi Arabia alliance," said Sunjeev Bery, Amnesty International's advocacy director for the Middle East in the U.S. "More and more members of Congress are clearly getting tired of selling Saudi Arabia bombs when it is dropping them on civilians in Yemen."

The vote on the Conyers-Ellison-Grijalva-Lieu-McGovern-Johnson-Lee Amendment was 204-216. 164 Democrats voted yes and 16 Democrats voted no. 40 Republicans voted yes and 200 Republicans voted no.

The Conyers amendment was supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, among other groups.

Here are the 16 Democrats who voted no:

Aguilar, Bishop (GA), Cooper, Cuellar, Davis (CA), Delaney, Engel, Gallego, Gene Green, Sean Maloney, Peters, Ruppersberger, Sherman, Sires, Smith (WA), Vela.

Here are the 40 Republicans who voted yes:

Amash, Blum, Brooks (AL), Burgess, Clawson (FL), Cramer, Davidson, Dent, Duncan (TN), Garrett, Gibson, Gohmert, Gosar, Grothman, Huelskamp, Issa, Jones, Jordan, Knight, Labrador, LoBiondo, Lummis, Massie, McClintock, McKinley, Meadows, Mulvaney, Palmer, Pitts, Poe (TX), Posey, Roe (TN), Rohrabacher, Rooney (FL), Schweikert, Sensenbrenner, Smith (NJ), Stutzman, Walker, Yoho.

A switch of merely seven votes from no to yes would have passed the amendment.

On May 27, Foreign Policy had reported:

Frustrated by a growing death toll, the White House has quietly placed a hold on the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as the Sunni ally continues its bloody war on Shiite rebels in Yemen, U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. It's the first concrete step the United States has taken to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children.

The Conyers amendment would have codified the Administration's announced "hold," making it official, public, accountable and transparent. During the House debate on the Conyers amendment, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen [R-NJ], chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, claimed that if U.S. cluster bomb transfers to Saudi Arabia were blocked, Saudi Arabia would get them from China instead, suggesting that Rep. Frelinghuysen, at least, thinks that the Administration's "hold" on such transfers is ephemeral.

President Obama is meeting Friday with Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with the conflict in Yemen among the topics of discussion. The President should take a signal from the House vote, and pressure Saudi Arabia to end its war in Yemen.

Here is the speech of House Armed Services Committee member Hank Johnson [D-GA] in support of the Conyers amendment: