The Senate on Thursday voted to uphold a presidential veto of a resolution that would have ordered an end to U.S. military participation in the civil war in Yemen.
The vote came despite impassioned bipartisan pleas from lawmakers like Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who argued Saudi Arabia does not deserve “unflinching, unwavering, unquestioning” U.S. support for its involvement in the war.
“The word has got to get out to the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia that no, we will not be following their lead and their interventions in wars that are only causing horrific pain in that region,” resolution sponsor Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination, said in a floor speech.
The vote, 53-45, didn't reach the two-thirds majority needed to overturn President Donald Trump’s veto last month. The outcome came as little surprise considering the Senate in March only narrowly passed the Yemen War Powers resolution by a vote of 54-46.
Still, the vote marked the furthest Congress has gone since the Vietnam era in attempting to halt an overseas U.S. military campaign that lawmakers have not expressly authorized.
The resolution would have directed the Defense Department to cease all operations in Yemen unrelated to counterterrorism actions against al-Qaida, including the aerial refueling of Saudi coalition jets. The Pentagon voluntarily suspended its refueling of planes last fall, but the resolution would have made it permanent.
The House will not get a chance to hold its own vote on overturning the veto because the resolution originated in the Senate. That seemingly ends efforts to end U.S. military involvement via the 1973 War Powers Act, which gives lawmakers special powers to force votes to halt military campaigns not authorized by Congress.
Lawmakers have other bills in both chambers that seek to send a signal to Saudi Arabia over its conduct in Yemen and other human rights abuses through provisions that would impose sanctions on Saudi Arabian officials who are preventing humanitarian aid from reaching Yemenis and prohibiting offensive weapon sales to the kingdom.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, in a floor speech criticized the Yemen resolution as counterproductive and said it was “common knowledge” there were multiple legislative proposals to punish Saudi Arabia for its recent actions, including the October assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Risch said he was attempting to thread the needle in the committee by working toward a compromise measure that had both bipartisan support and would be signed by Trump, who has based much of his Middle East policy around close relations with the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“We are attempting to craft legislation that can garner support in the committee, address concerns on both sides of the aisle and actually become law,” Risch said, without offering a timeline for when a measure might be brought forward for a committee markup.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., who spent part of the Easter recess on a congressional trip to the Middle East, said he met in Amman, Jordan, with a delegation of the major humanitarian aid groups working in Yemen and was alarmed by what he was told.
“Today in Yemen, there are 250,000 Yemenis who are so malnourished and so sick that they are beyond saving, they will die,” Murphy said from the Senate floor. “Another 10 million are on the cusp of entering that category. ...So long as the United States participates in the military campaign with the Saudis while not offering any meaningful pressure to get to that settlement, we are complicit in those deaths.”