In House’s Yemen vote, Congress reasserts war-making powers

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WASHINGTON | Asserting congressional authority over war-making powers, the House passed a resolution Wednesday that would force the administration to withdraw U.S. troops from involvement in Yemen, in a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s alliance with the Saudi-led coalition behind the military intervention.

FILE – In this Dec. 15, 2014, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. An independent U.N. human rights expert says authorities in Saudi Arabia quietly held a second court hearing for 11 people facing charges over the killing of Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

Lawmakers in both parties are increasingly uneasy over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and skeptical of the U.S. partnership with that coalition, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s role in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the royal family.

Passage would mark the first time Congress has relied on the decades-old War Powers Resolution to halt military intervention. It also would set up a potential confrontation with the White House, which has threatened a veto. The House voted 248-177 to approve the measure, sending it to the Senate, where a similar resolution passed last year.

“We have helped create, and worsen, the world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Ca., during the debate. “Our involvement in this war, quite frankly, is shameful.”

The chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said the vote represents “Congress reclaiming its role in foreign policy.”

Senate approval would set up a showdown with the administration over Trump’s shifting approach on foreign policy.

Lawmakers are quick to point out that Trump wants to withdraw troops from the wars in Syria and Afghanistan as part of his “America First” approach, but he has shown less interest in limiting the U.S. role in Yemen.

The White House says the House resolution is “flawed” because U.S. troops are not directly involved in military action in the Yemen, where the coalition is fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in a conflict largely seen a proxy involving the Mideast’s dominant regional players.

Since 2015, the administration says, the U.S. has provided support to the coalition, including intelligence and, until recently, aerial refueling, but it has not had forces involved in “hostilities.”

Congress has not invoked the War Power Resolution, which requires approval of military actions, since it was enacted in 1973. Lawmakers approved more sweeping authorizations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that some argue are being used too broadly for other military actions.

Newly emboldened Democrats in the House eager to confront Trump on foreign policy, and Republicans in both chambers have shown a willingness to put a legislative check on the president’s agenda.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who drafted the legislation with independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, said there’s an emerging bipartisan alliance that’s skeptical of military intervention without congressional oversight.

“It’s not just about Yemen. It’s about the Congress taking a stand and every future president having to think twice about whether to authorize a military intervention without congressional approval,” Khanna said in an interview.

Before Wednesday’s vote, the House overwhelmingly agreed to add an amendment offered by Republicans working to expose emerging Democratic divisions over support for Israel.

The amendment reaffirms the U.S. commitment “to combat anti-Semitism around the world” and says it’s in the U.S.’s national security interest to oppose boycotts of Israel. That’s a reference to the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement that has gained support of some lawmakers.