“We should not be associated with a bombing campaign that the U.N. tells us is likely a gross violation of human rights,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The resolution must still be taken up in the House, where members passed a nearly identical resolution to end U.S. participation in the Yemen war earlier this year.
It is unlikely, however, that either chamber would have the votes necessary to resuscitate the measure if President Trump vetoes it.
Lawmakers’ willingness to break with Saudi Arabia over Yemen was amplified after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul late last year, and intelligence strongly suggested that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, had ordered the operation or was at least aware of it.
Last year, the Senate voted unanimously to hold the crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s slaying. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has backed sanctions against Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s killing, as well as a halt to weapons transfers, in comprehensive legislation that has yet to come up for a vote.
Only seven Senate Republicans joined Democrats on Wednesday to back the vote on ending support for the Saudi war effort.
For supporters of the measure, the vote was not just about taking a moral stand on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, but also about asserting Congress’s constitutional privilege to declare war.
“Today, we begin the process of reclaiming our constitutional authority by ending U.S. involvement in a war that has not been authorized by Congress and is clearly unconstitutional,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the resolution’s chief sponsor, said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Sanders teamed with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on the legislation, which seeks to invoke the War Powers Resolution to curtail American participation in the war. Senators also unanimously adopted amendments to the resolution stating that nothing in it could be construed as authorizing the use of military force, and leaving some room for continued intelligence sharing with the Saudi government.
If the resolution passes both chambers of Congress, it would mark the first time that Congress has successfully invoked the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. engagement in a conflict.
Opponents of the resolution warned Wednesday that it was “fundamentally flawed” and would compromise efforts to encourage a peaceful negotiated settlement to the Yemen conflict by making the U.S. position appear fractured.
“It is going to send a message to people that they don’t need to negotiate right now, that they are actually making gains,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James E. Risch (R-Idaho) said on the Senate floor just before the vote. “I would urge my colleagues to vote against this at this time and give peace a chance through the negotiations.”
Supporters, however, argued that “if we pass this resolution, peace becomes more likely,” as Murphy put it Wednesday, arguing that when the Senate cast a similar vote last year, it seemed to help push the parties in the war toward declaring a cease fire in Hodeidah, a port city critical to bringing humanitarian supplies into Yemen.