WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday voted to end U.S. military aid to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a historic and symbolic rebuke to the White House and Saudi Arabia following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Senate passed the Yemen resolution by a mostly partisan vote of 56-41 — the first time either the House or Senate has ever used congressional war powers to attempt to pull the United States out of oversea hostilities. The vote was also a victory for Senate Democrats, who passed the measure with seven Republican votes.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and one of the sponsors of the bipartisan resolution, said he hoped the action signaled the start of Congress taking back control of its war-making responsibilities.
“We have seen an abdication of that responsibility, and today I hope we begin the process of taking that back,” Sanders said. “The war in Yemen is unauthorized. There has never been a vote in Congress to allow our men and women to participate in that war, and therefore that war is unconstitutional. And it has got to end.”
For the resolution to take effect, it would have to pass the House, which successfully moved this week to block that possibility. Though Democrats say they could reintroduce the measure next year when they control the House, the White House has threatened a veto.
By unanimous consent, the Senate passed a separate resolution immediately afterward that names Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. It also asserts the kingdom’s misleading statements and erratic foreign policy have undermined what is otherwise an important relationship to U.S. national security and economic interests.
“The United States Senate has unanimously — unanimously — held Mohammad bin Salman responsible for death of Jamal Khashoggi,” said one of the resolution’s sponsors, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly concluded the crown prince was involved in a plot to kill Khashoggi, but President Donald Trump has been reluctant to assign blame and continued to tout the economic benefits of ties to Riyadh, a major purchaser of U.S. arms.
Other senators have expressed concerns over U.S. complicity in a mushrooming humanitarian crisis wherein civilians, many of them children, have been subjected to deadly disease and indiscriminate bombing.
Since 2015, the United States has provided limited support to member countries of the Emirati and Saudi-led coalition, including intelligence sharing, logistics and, until recently, aerial refueling, according to the White House.
The Trump administration has argued the war powers resolution is being misapplied because the U.S. is not involved in hostilities as defined by the War Powers Act of 1973. The resolution would hurt America’s alliances in the region and its ability to fight al-Qaida and Islamic State affiliates.
Most Republicans supported the president, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urging his colleagues to vote against the Yemen resolution, which he called “a blunt and imprecise measure.”
“Yes, the Senate wants Saudi Arabia to act responsibly,” McConnell said. “We want to see a more stable Yemen for the sake of the Yemeni people. We also want to preserve this 70-year partnership, which serves our interest and helps stabilize a crucial region.”
During the debate, the Senate approved several amendments to the resolution, from Sens. Sanders, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., including one to explicitly bar the U.S. military from refueling non-U.S. aircraft conducting missions in the Yemen civil war.
Most Republicans opposed the amendment, from Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., but it passed 58-41 with support from all Democrats, plus Republicans Young, Corker and Lee, plus Sens. Susan Collins, Jerry Moran, Rand Paul.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.