The Senate failed Thursday to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a bipartisan measure that would have reined in US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.
Needing a two-thirds majority to overcome the veto, the measure was defeated on a 53-45 vote, with seven Republicans joining with Democrats.
Despite the loss, critics of the Yemen war vowed to keep fighting to end US involvement, arguing it is immoral to participate in the war that has created a humanitarian crisis.
Making rare use of the War Powers Resolution, war critics pushed through the House and Senate a measure that would have forced Trump to get permission from Congress before allowing the military to aid Saudi Arabia in its fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The votes were also viewed by many lawmakers as a rebuke of Trump’s broader policies towards Saudi Arabia, including his refusal to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But lawmakers who were against stopping US military involvement argued the US does not have “boots on the ground” and is offering only noncombat technical assistance to Saudi Arabia, an ally.
That the measure reached the point of an override vote – even with its failure – underscored a dramatic shift in a short period of time.
Strongly opposed by the Trump administration – and Republican leadership – from its inception, the first effort to move it in the Senate failed. A second push in December passed the Senate but was never brought up in the then-Republican-led House. With Democrats in control of that chamber this year, it cleared both chambers in a significant rebuke for the administration.
Its success, at least on Capitol Hill, wasn’t driven by a single reason, but a combination of growing outrage, senators and aides made clear.
There was horror from the reports of the civilian suffering in Yemen, outrage related to Saudi Arabia, particularly in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder and explicit frustration with an administration that members of both parties said kept them in the dark about both aforementioned issues.
“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the tepid response by the White House was the reason the circumstance changed dramatically,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said in an interview. “When the White House demonstrated no real response to this brazen murder in a consulate, the Saudi government was lying to world about it, then they got caught – I think that was sort of the last straw for Congress.”
From the outset, Trump administration officials urged lawmakers not to move forward out of concern it would undercut their negotiating strategy in efforts to reach a peace agreement in Yemen. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was particularly forceful in telling lawmakers the effort would serve only to empower Iran.