WASHINGTON ― Senators voted 54-46 on Wednesday for a bill ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s controversial intervention in Yemen, stymying GOP efforts to protect the policy and President Donald Trump, who will now likely have to issue a veto on behalf of a campaign accused of war crimes and a Saudi ruler who the CIA believes murdered a journalist.
Democrats in the House are now expected to take up and pass the resolution, perhaps as soon as the last week of March, a congressional aide told HuffPost. It would then proceed to Trump’s desk.
The win is the second in the Senate for a coalition opposed to the Yemen war: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), allies in the House and advocacy groups on the left and right who have managed to make it a top issue on Capitol Hill. They passed a similar resolution in the previous Congress in December — scoring the first successful Senate vote to end a U.S. military operation not approved by Congress — after tapping lawmakers’ frustrations over the Saudis’ killing of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi and near-famine conditions for millions of people in Yemen.
Seven Republican senators voted for the legislation despite strong pressure from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
“Senators from both parties have made clear that the Saudis can’t take their alliance with the United States for granted,” Murphy said in a statement after the vote. “The Saudi-led war in Yemen has caused 85,000 children to starve to death. 85,000 children. Today we said enough — enough with this disastrous and unconstitutional war, enough with facilitating this humanitarian disaster, enough with giving the Saudis a blank check. I hope the Saudi leadership is paying attention.”
But the path to Wednesday’s victory showed that, for all the interest in pressuring Saudi Arabia specifically and reasserting congressional war-making authority more broadly, defenders of the status quo ― primarily those in the Republican leadership ― are willing to fight hard to prevent change.
The GOP has already managed to slow the process of sending the bill to the Oval Office. Opponents of the war used the House’s new Democratic majority to pass a version this year of the Senate’s December resolution; they had hoped it would then be a smooth shot on from there and simultaneously introduced the legislation in both chambers. Yet two successful Republican amendments in the House created a difference between the bills, which is why there now needs to be another vote in the House on the exact language that just passed the Senate.
GOP senators also attempted Wednesday to attach amendments to the bill that would not be acceptable to the Democratic House, but supporters of the anti-war bid managed to fend them off. Still, another gambit before the final vote in the lower body seems likely.
Activists and lawmakers acknowledge the setback privately but say it’s a delay rather than a fatal blow.
“Yemen can’t wait, and now that both chambers of Congress have spoken, loudly and clearly, there’s no reason for any more delays,” Kate Kizer of the peace group Win Without War said. “Any attempt to delay final passage is an attempt to continue supporting war crimes in Yemen. Period.”
Congressional action so far has bolstered international efforts to get both sides of the conflict — the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and Iranian-backed rebels — to negotiate, and a cease-fire crafted around the time of the December vote has mostly held. The United Nations official managing that diplomacy visited Congress this week.
This story has been updated to include details of the vote and a statement from Sen. Chris Murphy.