Politics

Yemen Resolution Could Prompt Unruly Foreign Policy Floor Debate

Supporters of War Powers effort say that would be just fine

Sen. Rand Paul said some of his colleagues may seek to block the Yemen resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Like it or not, senators face a test vote as early as Wednesday on whether to debate a resolution to pull the U.S. out of the hostilities in Yemen.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are scheduled to be on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning for a closed, all-senators briefing on Yemen policy that is certain to get into U.S. action regarding Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The procedural vote, at least, will certainly happen this week or next, and there’s a chance of an unruly amendment process on foreign affairs.

Agreeing to proceed to the joint resolution by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., could lead to several amendment votes that leadership might not be able to control.

And to supporters of the bipartisan resolution like Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, that would be just fine.

“What would happen if we had a couple of votes on Afghanistan or NATO or further votes on Yemen. Would it explode? Would it cease to exist if we actually had a debate on foreign policy? I don’t know,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “Some of us want to dare to find out.”

“Let’s step out into the great unknown and see what happens if we survive the tabling motion,” Murphy said.

Murphy and other advocates expect more support, perhaps including the simple majority needed to proceed, than when an earlier attempt at moving the joint resolution under the War Powers Resolution was tabled and thus stymied.

As for the senators who vote to table the motion to proceed, Republican Sen. Rand Paul told Roll Call that he suspects some of them are “timid.”

“I think the interesting reason why most people will vote to table the Sanders resolution is that they really do not want to fulfill their constitutional role and be in charge of foreign policy,” said Paul, a critic of U.S. policy regarding Yemen. “We’ve abdicated it since World War II really.”

“I think most of the senators are timid and really don’t want to be in charge of foreign policy, so they’ll vote no and they’ll say maybe we should study the issue or have a report,” said Paul.

Murphy suggested that the vote might end up being held over until next week, but that because of the expedited procedures, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky could not push back beyond that.

As for the argument that the joint resolution should be killed because senators might have to cast tough votes, Murphy doubts that will carry much resonance with Democrats.

“I don’t think that’s persuasive in our caucus,” Murphy said. “If I were the Republicans I’d be freaking out about having to talk about Trump’s foreign policy on the floor of the Senate for a day.”

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