In Historic First, Senate Invokes War Powers Act

Calls for US to end support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen war; 2nd vote condemns prince
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 13, 2018 9:25 AM CST
Updated Dec 13, 2018 3:45 PM CST
Senate May Invoke War Powers Act for First Time
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, speaks to reporters after a closed-door security briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Dec. 4, 2018.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(Newser) – The Senate on Thursday sent what the Washington Post described as a historic rebuke to the White House over Saudi Arabia. Actually, it delivered two rebukes. First, senators voted 56-41 to invoke the War Powers Act and demand that the US end its military support of the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen war, per the Hill. Neither the Senate nor the House has ever invoked the 1973 act previously. The Senate also voted—unanimously—to condemn Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and called on the Saudi government to "ensure appropriate accountability," reports the AP. The details.

  • Only symbolic? Though historic, it's unlikely the war resolution can pass the House this year. That chamber already has moved to effectively make passage impossible in 2018, reports the Weekly Standard. And even if it did pass, President Trump would likely veto it. Democrats could re-introduce it in 2019, however.
  • Why? Mounting reports of war atrocities and the killing of Khashoggi led to bipartisan anger among senators, per NPR. Seven Republicans bucked Trump on the war vote, including co-sponsor Mike Lee of Utah. Among other things, the legislation forbids the American refueling of Saudi jets and orders the US to scale back its military presence in the region, reports the Wall Street Journal.

  • Argument in favor: "It says to the country, it says to the world, the United States Senate ... will not be part of this brutal, horrific war in Yemen led by an undemocratic, despotic regime," said Bernie Sanders, another co-sponsor, before the vote. Particularly, he said the bombing of a bus filled with children in August, along with the murder of Khashoggi, gave the measure its necessary added support.
  • Argument against: Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan made the same argument: that the War Powers Act doesn't apply because the US isn't directly involved in hostilities. "If the Senate wants to pick a constitutional fight with the executive branch over war powers, I would advise my colleagues to pick a better case," said McConnell, per the Washington Examiner.
  • US help: The US has provided logistical support to the Saudis, though Ryan points out that the US already has stopped providing air-to-air refueling for Saudi jets. Lee, on the other hand, said the US is providing bombs and helping determine where to drop them. "That's involvement in war, and that's pretty direct," he said, per USA Today.
  • Focus on the prince: For the first time, senators have suggested they want the Saudi regime to remove the prince from power, notes Al Jazeera. "The current construct" with Saudi Arabia "is not working," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee next year. "You're never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless things change."
  • A bright spot: The Senate action came hours after opposing sides in the war met in Sweden and agreed to a cease-fire in the pivotal port city of Hodeidah, reports the Wall Street Journal. It's a rare diplomatic breakthrough after four years of war.
(The Yemen war amounts to a "death sentence" for young children there, according to a rights group.)

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