WASHINGTON — House lawmakers approved a measure to block all U.S. forces and equipment from involvement in the ongoing civil war in Yemen, in an effort to stop American forces from assisting Saudi Arabia in the hostilities there.
The 248-177 vote could soon spur the first veto of President Donald Trump’s administration, since White House officials have already criticized the resolution as an attack on the executive branch’s war powers. Eighteen House Republicans backed the plan, along with nearly all of the chamber’s Democrats. Senate lawmakers still need to weigh in on the measure before it heads to Trump’s desk
Military commands in recent years have provided aircraft refueling services as well as other logistical support in the Yemen conflict — but no troops on the ground. White House officials have argued the work is intended to strengthen ties with a foreign ally to prevent the spread of violent extremism in the region.
But lawmakers argued that the president has overstepped his authority by inserting U.S. forces into the conflict without a formal declaration of war. Supporters of the congressional resolution argued that regardless of the technical explanations, the end result of the cooperation is America being drawn deeper into a conflict with no direct ties to national security.
“U.S. bombs are bombing school buses. U.S. bombs are bombing those in Yemen who are innocent citizens,” said Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas. “This resolution clearly says we should stop the hostilities against the Houthi forces. More importantly, we should stop being used by the Saudi forces.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and sponsor of the resolution, said the goal is to “end American complicity in the atrocities in Yemen.” Outside observers have put the death toll of the four-year-old conflict at more than 50,000 and warned that tens of thousands more face the threat of famine because of the fighting.
“This is not a complex issue,” he said in a floor speech before the vote. “For the last two years, we have been assisting the Saudis in bombing Yemeni civilians … If you care about American interests, if you care about the outrage that the Saudis are inflicting on Americans and on the world, the only patriotic thing to do is to vote for this resolution.”
Critics of the measure said it unfairly limits Trump in a way that his predecessors were not constrained.
“The president of the United States does have legitimate powers as commander in chief to support friends and allies short of war without congressional approval,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “That has happened time and time and time again … I think the president is working well within his rights.”
This resolution calls for removal of all U.S. troops from “hostilities in or affecting Yemen” within 30 days, but includes caveats to exclude any military operations directed at al-Qaida terrorists in the region.
The measure now heads to the Senate, where a similar resolution passed last year. If supporters can secure another successful vote there, it would create another round of political problems for the president.
Trump has already been under fire for his relationship with Saudi leaders after the White House skipped a deadline last week for a report on the royal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman connection to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.