As opposition to US involvement in war grows, House Republicans opted for rare procedural ploy that could prevent a vote
Congressional Republicans have used a highly unusual manoeuvre to stop a debate about US military involvement in Yemen, attaching a one-line rule change to a resolution about wolves.
Republicans won a vote on the procedural ploy in the House of Representatives on Wednesday evening, stopping a resolution aimed at ending US support for the Saudi and Emirati war effort in Yemen, by ensuring it does not go to the floor of the chamber for a debate.
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Democrat Ro Khanna, the congressman who was the resolution’s principal author, wrote on Twitter: “It’s unfortunate that the Republicans broke precedent and blocked our resolution to end US involvement in the war in Yemen. They are abdicating congressional oversight duties on their way out of power.”
“While today’s vote did not go our way, we will not stop fighting to end US involvement in the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history,” Khanna said. “We must end US complicity in Yemen’s humanitarian disaster.”
The Republican win significantly eases pressure on Riyadh and its substantial lobby in Washington. However, there is a parallel effort in the Senate to curtail US involvement, which may to come to a vote later this month.
Congressional opposition to the US participation in the war has been growing along with the civilian death toll from the bombing campaign by coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which by some estimates is in the tens of thousands, not including those who have starved as a result of the conflict. The UN has warned of an imminent famine that could kill millions.
The murder of the Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul has compounded the unease felt among Democrats and Republicans about US military entanglement. The Trump administration, however, has resisted calls to curb support of the coalition on the grounds of protecting US arms sales and Saudi support for the administration’s hardline stance towards Iran.
A measure introduced by Khanna in September invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution to “remove US armed forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress”.
Last week, the US announced it was ending the refueling of Saudi warplanes making bombing runs over Yemen, but it continues to supply arms, intelligence and logistical support. Furthermore a recent report by the Pentagon’s inspector general’s office brought to light a secret military operation, codenamed Yukon Journey, details of which are still unknown.
As it was introduced under the War Powers Resolution, Khanna’s measure should have had privileged status, meaning it could not be held up in committee by the majority for more than 15 days. After that it had to be subject to a vote on the floor of the House.
However, at 5pm on Tuesday – Congress’s first day back at work after the midterm elections – the Republican-dominated House rules committee introduced an extraordinary clause tacked on to a procedural ruling on a bill about management of the grey wolf population. The clause stated, without explanation, that War Power Resolution privileges would not apply to the Yemen measure.
The rule change means that the Republicans can prevent a debate and vote on the Yemen war taking place in the House until January, when the newly elected Democratic majority take their seats.
“The Republicans really don’t want to be forced to take a vote,” Ryan Goodman, a New York University law professor and co-editor of the Just Security website. “It is a very, very unusual move to strip the ability of the minority to get a vote.”
“The arms industry may also help explain Republican resistance,” Goodman added. “US arms manufacturers must know that if congressional efforts to terminate direct US military support for the Yemen war gain traction, shutting down US arm sales would likely be next.”