Congress Acts on War in Yemen

April 2019
By Jeff Abramson and Izabella Czejdo

Both chambers of the U.S. Congress recently passed resolutions to prohibit U.S. military involvement in the war in Yemen, a rebuke to the Trump administration's approach of supporting the Saudi-led coalition fighting there. Due to differences in the resolutions, the House needs to act again, after which a presidential veto is expected.

In 2018, 56 senators approved a War Powers Act resolution directing the president to remove U.S. forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen, unless directed at al Qaeda or associated groups. Steps taken by the Republican-controlled House prevented a vote on that chamber's version of the resolution. (See ACT, January/February 2019.) This year, the House took up a new resolution, approving it in a 248–177 vote on Feb. 28. Eighteen Republicans joined 230 Democrats in passing the resolution.

The Senate passed its War Powers Act resolution March 13 by a 54–46 vote, with seven Republicans joining all Democrats and independents in supporting the measure. Last-second changes to the House version to include language on anti-Semitism means that the House must reconsider the Senate version. The House is expected to vote on the Senate version soon, but the vote has not yet been scheduled.

President Donald Trump is expected to veto the resolution should it come to his desk. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered support March 15 for the Saudi-led coalition in the context of Iran. “The Trump administration fundamentally disagrees that curbing our assistance to the Saudi-led coalition” is the way to end the conflict, he told a press conference. “If you truly care about Yemeni lives, you’d support the Saudi-led effort to prevent Yemen from turning into a puppet state of the corrupt, brutish Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Support for the coalition has become increasingly controversial, especially after February reports that U.S. weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had been handed to al Qaeda-linked militias in Yemen. During a March debate, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) flagged these concerns, with Menendez saying, “In addition to the horrifying humanitarian crisis, we’ve also learned that U.S. coalition partners may be transferring U.S.-origin weapons to known—underline known—terrorist organizations.”

The Trump administration takes “all allegations of misuse of U.S.-origin defense articles very seriously,” a State Department official told Arms Control Today March 20. The official reiterated the U.S. position that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict and that “we expect all recipients of U.S.-origin defense equipment to abide by their end-use obligations and not retransfer equipment without prior U.S. government authorization.”

Congress may act to restrict arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, impose sanctions, and stop air-to-air aircraft refueling for Saudi-led coalition aircraft, according to a bipartisan measure introduced by Menendez with six co-sponsors. Legislation in the House sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) seeks to prohibit further arms sales to Saudi Arabia and has 27 co-sponsors.