US lawmakers are seeking to end US military involvement in the war in Yemen (AFP)
Efforts to end US support for a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen have suffered a setback – then took a symbolic step forward – on Wednesday, as the US House of Representatives blocked an attempt to halt Washington's assistance to Saudi forces, while a similar measure cleared a second hurdle in the US Senate.
In a 206-203 vote on Wednesday afternoon, US lawmakers narrowly passed a provision in the House to prevent the application of parts of the War Powers Resolution before the end of the chamber's current term at the start of 2019.
The War Powers Resolution gives Congress the power to withdraw US involvement from wars they have not authorised.
The House vote effectively ends a push by some Democrats in that chamber of Congress to stop US military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, which launched a military operation in Yemen in 2015 to root out the country's Houthi rebels and restore the kingdom's ally, Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, to power.
"We need to speak up and be clear that our military should not be aiding Saudi Arabia in this horrific war," said Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, who introduced the House resolution, in a video posted online before Wednesday's vote.
Once again the GOP is using parliamentary tricks to block our effort to end the devastating war in Yemen. Every 10 minutes a Yemeni child is dying. @SpeakerRyan is using his remaining power to protect the Saudis who are aligned w/ al-Qaeda and murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. pic.twitter.com/FAtRdAc54W
— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) December 12, 2018
The Yemen provision was attached to an unrelated farm bill on Wednesday, a move that drew criticism from US lawmakers who accused Republicans of seeking to shield US President Donald Trump from criticism over his unwavering support for Saudi Arabia.
"In the middle of our debate of the fam bill, they slipped a provision that would keep us from considering any action in Yemen," Democratic Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman said in a videotaped statement.
"Republicans are tripping over themselves to insulate the president from his wrongheaded decisions – in this case his too cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia."
Republican lawmakers similarly slipped a Yemen provision into a House bill about wolves last month in order to derail efforts to end US involvement in Yemen.
The US military provides intelligence and logistic support to Saudi forces fighting in Yemen, and up until recently, it was also assisting with the mid-air refuelling of Saudi jets.
Senate motion clears second hurdle
Later on Wednesday, the Senate voted in favour of advancing a similar resolution to end US support for Saudi-led forces fighting in Yemen.
That motion, backed by a bipartisan group of senators, including Bernie Sanders, successfully passed a first, procedural vote last month, in a decision that was widely viewed as a historic rebuke of the Trump administration's close ties to the Saudis.
A bill must pass both chambers of Congress before being presented to the president to be signed into law. The president can veto the bill, but Congress can override the president's objection by a two-third vote both in the House and the Senate.
"The time is long overdue for the United States to stop following the lead of Saudi Arabia. The Senate must reassert its constitutional authority and vote today to end our support for this unauthorized, unconstitutional, and disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen," Sanders said on Twitter.
The time is long overdue for the United States to stop following the lead of Saudi Arabia. The Senate must reassert its constitutional authority and vote today to end our support for this unauthorized, unconstitutional, and disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 12, 2018
The procedural vote to move ahead with the Senate resolution was passed with 60 in favour and 39 against.
After that vote, the senators debated the process of proposing amendments to the resolution. It remained unclear when a vote on the actual contents of the resolution would take place, but it could be held later on Wednesday.
The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people, a research group recently said, while the ongoing fighting has caused a cholera outbreak and brought the country as a whole to the verge of famine.
Democrats have highlighted the urgency of ending the conflict, but Republicans say Democrats can reintroduce the Yemen resolution when they become a majority in the House in January.
For his part, Khanna said the war in Yemen is not only a humanitarian issue, but it also goes against Washington's strategic interests.
"The Saudis are actually aligned with al-Qaeda in fighting the Houthis. It makes no strategic sense," Khanna said. "And we have another generation growing up in Yemen seeing American missiles taking the lives of their family members. That's not making us safer."