For First Time, Congress Poised to Invoke War Powers Act to End US Military Role in Yemen War

Interview with Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs, Peace Action, conducted by Scott Harris

The U.S. Senate, by a 54 to 46 vote, approved a resolution calling for an end to U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition war in Yemen. On March 13, seven Republican senators joined the Democrats, in voting for the measure, which basically put President Trump on notice of growing opposition to the U.S. role in the war which the United Nations calls the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis. Fourteen million Yemeni civilians are on the brink of starvation as the nation faces a devastating cholera epidemic.
The Senate had approved the war powers resolution last December, but the GOP-controlled House blocked a vote at that time. Democrats, who won control of the House in November, passed their own version of the resolution in February, but due to a procedural issue the House must vote again using the Senate measure’s language. President Trump has vowed to veto the legislation, which would require a 2/3 majority vote in both houses of Congress to override.  If the vote proceeds as expected, this would be the first time the War Powers Act has been adopted by Congress since the legislation won passage in 1973.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with 
Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs, at Peace Action. Here, Martin assesses the significance of the Senate’s passage of the War Powers Act and growing animosity toward the Saudi monarchy after they murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which could exert pressure on the Trump administration and the Saudis to end the their bloody war in Yemen.

PAUL KAWIKA MARTIN: We’ve been attempting to do this for a number of years. And in the House, at least in the last couple of years, the War Powers (Act) kept getting blocked by Republican leadership using various methods to take what should be a privileged resolution to be able to force a vote on these war issues – and “deprivilege it” – and doing other tactics to not have votes. But fortunately, now that we have a Democratic-controlled House, they have moved forward with the vote earlier this year in which we would hope that the Senate vote would actually send the bill to the president’s desk. Unfortunately, the Republicans used another tactic to the House version this year, which is something called a motion to recommit. It’s the last chance for the minority party to offer either an alternative or a slight change in the bill. And the Democrats at the time didn’t know that this motion, which was specifically a motion to support Israel and to oppose anti-Semitism, which of course, you know, most people want to support, be opposed to anti-Semitism. So it was sort of an easy vote.

The Democrats didn’t quite realize what it was going to do – that the Senate parliamentarian would rule that it was not quite related to the bill and lost the privileged status on the Senate side. So McConnell couldn’t bring up the bill – decided he didn’t want to bring up the bill on the House side. So we’re doing this one more time hopefully. As you mentioned in the Senate, this is a new bill from the war powers resolution. Very similar to the one that passed last December. Now that it has passed with all Democrats voting for it and a couple of Republicans helping out – (Sens. Susan) Collins from Maine, (Steve) Daines from Montana, (Mike) Lee from Utah, (Jerry) Moran from Kansas, (Lisa) Murkowski from Alaska and (Rand) Paul from Kentucky and (Todd) Young from Indiana. And so now it goes one more time to the House and this time we hope that House members will understand that if we want to send this to the president’s desk, it needs to be a clean bill, no amendments, no supporting any motions to recommit. Just send it to the president’s desk and see what the president does with it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The outcome that is likely here is that president Trump will veto this bill unless they were a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to override his veto. Is that the likely course of events here?

PAUL KAWIKA MARTIN: Yeah, I believe so. I believe that the House will pass it and that it will get sent to the president’s desk. Several times he has threatened to veto it. So it’s very likely that the veto will occur. And while that’s disheartening not to see this actually enacted into law and what basically what the law would do would stop the U.S. support of the Saudi-led coalition war on Yemen. We have been providing, historically, refueling of jets under pressure. Trump administration did stop that late last year, but we still provide targeting assistance, possible arms sales. We have people on the ground and not only in Yemen, but in Saudi Arabia assisting with the war. It would stop this assistance even though it’s not going to be signed into law, we’ve heard from high-level negotiators in the peace process in the Yemen civil war that these votes, that this pressure that’s being put on Saudi Arabia is impacting the negotiations in a positive way to move towards a political solution because that’s the only solution that we have here to stop this war.

And so, we do think that another vote and the attention that the veto will get will continue to put pressure on the Saudi-led coalition to end the war as well as the rebels inside Yemen. And lastly, it does provide strength to Congress to move forward on other possible avenues, such as trying to cut off funding for things and other legislative activities that they can do over the next several months.

When you have so many millions of people on the edge of starvation, it’s one of the hopes that these votes and the attention that is being put on the situation will put pressure on the parties to work quicker to come to some sort of political agreement. We do know, again, from very high-level people within the negotiating teams that these votes will help put pressure to get that political solution, which is the only way to stop the war.

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