House uses war-making power, hoping to force Yemen troop withdrawal

Invoking a decades-old resolution, the House passed a bill Wednesday that would force the Trump administration to withdraw US troops from Yemen – a rebuke of the administration's foreign policy and a sign that attitudes might be shifting in Washington.

Hani Mohammed/AP
Tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels hold up their weapons as they attend a gathering on Dec. 13, 2018 to show their support for the ongoing peace talks in Sanaa, Yemen. A United States-backed coalition has supported the Houthi rebels, but in a rare split from the Trump administration's agenda, Congress has drawn up a resolution to force the administration to withdraw US troops from Yemen.

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

Lawmakers in both parties are increasingly uneasy over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and skeptical of the US 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) of California, during the debate. "Our involvement in this war, quite frankly, is shameful."

The chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D) of New York, said the vote represents "Congress reclaiming its role in foreign policy."

Senate approval would set up a showdown with the administration – a veto would be Mr. Trump's first – over the president'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 US role in Yemen.

The White House says the House resolution is "flawed" because US troops are not directly involved in military action in Yemen, where the coalition is fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in a conflict largely seen as a proxy war involving the Mideast's dominant regional players.

Since 2015, the administration says, the US 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.

In the House, 18 Republicans, including members of the GOP's libertarian-leaning wing and Trump allies in the conservative Freedom Caucus, joined Democrats in passing the Yemen measure.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D) who drafted the legislation, 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," said the California congressman in an interview.

The Senate version is from independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and backed by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

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

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

First-term Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) of Minnesota, one of the Muslim-American women elected to Congress last fall, came under criticism this week for her comments against the Israel lobbying organization AIPAC that raised anti-Semitic stereotypes. She later apologized.

The House added another GOP amendment that would allow continued intelligence sharing, which drew fire from the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU warned it gives the president broad authority to provide the Saudis and others with US intelligence information about Yemen, and the group said the package, overall, is now weaker than originally proposed.

Now the Yemen measure goes to the Senate, where a similar resolution on removing US involvement in the war was approved with Republican support late last year.

At the time, Congress was eager to send a message to both the president and the Saudis after the October murder of the US-based journalist Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The US has sanctioned 17 Saudi individuals for their involvement in the killing, and US intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, must have at least known of the plot. Trump so far has decided not to impose harsher penalties on the prince. The kingdom insists he did not order the killing.

The outcome of the legislation is uncertain. Republicans control the Senate, 53-47, and a simple majority is needed to pass.

Trump has yet to veto any measures from Congress. If he did veto the Yemen resolution, it's unclear whether lawmakers would have enough support to override him.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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