The Senate is expected to debate a war powers resolution next week that calls for the United States to end its involvement in the Yemen conflict, but a top Senate Republican leader signaled Thursday GOP leaders would prefer to put off a final vote on the divisive issue until after it can be more closely studied in committee.
“I think it would be better for the committee to consider it and make a recommendation after having a hearing so everybody understands exactly what the consequences are,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 GOP leader in the chamber, referring to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The US has provided military support – including intelligence sharing, logistical support, and mid-flight refueling – to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia against Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. The conflict, which is considered, in part, a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran as they struggle for dominance in the region, has created a dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Three senators – Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut – authored the privileged resolution and are working to force a vote on it. They believe the refueling and other actions by the US armed forces are akin to “boots on the ground” and that Congress needs to authorize it.
They described their bill as the “first-ever vote in the Senate to withdraw US armed forces from an unauthorized war.”
“For too long, and under both parties, Congress has abdicated it responsibility to provide authorization for the use of military force,” the three senators wrote recently in a letter to bipartisan Senate leaders. “Regardless of what one thinks of our involvement in Yemen, as we enter a fourth year of helping the Saudis prosecute this war it is important that Congress either provides express authorization for our involvement in the conflict or calls on the president to cease operations.”
“I hope the Congress and the Senate vote next week to get the United States out of aiding Saudi Arabia in this very terrible war and works on a humanitarian solution and works to bring peace to a very volatile region,” Sanders told reporters Wednesday as he departed a classified briefing on Yemen for all senators by Trump administration officials.
Pentagon leaders oppose the resolution and have argued refueling and the other limited assistance they are providing don’t constitute “hostilities” that need congressional approval.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who chairs Foreign Relations, said he agrees.
“We do so much of that with our allies around the world and don’t consider that to be involved in hostilities but simply helping our allies in what they’re doing,” Corker said. “I think if we use the War Powers Act to call these kinds of activities hostilities, we could go down a really slippery slope.”
Senators and aides involved in the issue say they are unsure where the votes are and predict it could be close. GOP leaders may try to redirect the measure on procedural motion, for which a majority vote is needed to succeed.
Such a move could diffuse the issue, which will take place the same week Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Washington.