WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday failed to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a resolution seeking an end to U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen that was championed by Senator Chris Murphy.
With a two-thirds majority needed, only 53 Senators voted in favor of overriding the veto – an action that Murphy claimed on the Senate floor was about “getting the blood off our hands as 250,000 Yemeni face certain death if we do not do something soon.” The vote was 53-45.
A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Murphy introduced the resolution with Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Mike Lee of Utah calling for an end to U.S. military involvement in the Saudi-led civil war in Yemen that the United Nations says has created a humanitarian crisis in the Arabian Peninsula. It was the first time in history that Congress has turned to the War Powers Resolution on such a matter.
The four-year-old conflict began when Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, overthrew Yemen’s previous government. The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the U.S., launched a military campaign against the Houthis soon after.
On a trip last week to the Middle East, Murphy and Utah Senator Mitt Romney met with officials from some of the largest relief organizations working in Yemen. Murphy said they delivered a “bone chilling” report of the humanitarian crisis caused by the military conflict.
Murphy said they reported that 250,000 people are so malnourished and sick that they are beyond saving and that another 10 million are on the cusp of entering that category. “The only way to stop the humanitarian crisis is to end this civil war and as long as the United States participates in the military campaign with the Saudis we are complicit in those deaths,” he said.
Murphy has spoken out against the civil war since the conflict began in 2015 saying it has had devastating humanitarian consequences and created a security vacuum that has empowered terrorist groups, like ISIS and al Qaeda, to grow stronger in the region.
In March, the Senate voted 56-41 to end U.S. participation in the war. The House followed in April, voting 247-175 in favor. Those voting against the resolution in both chambers were Republicans.
Trump vetoed the resolution saying the limited support the United States has provided to the Saudi-led coalition has not put U.S. military personnel into hostilities.
“Apart from counterterrorism operations against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen,” Trump said. “Since 2015, the United States has provided limited support to member countries of the Saudi-led coalition, including intelligence sharing, logistics support, and, until recently, in-flight refueling of non-United States aircraft.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch of Idaho urged colleagues to sustain the veto saying he opposed the resolution.
“The premise of this resolution is fundamentally flawed. And I believe a mischaracterization of the actual facts on the ground today,” he said.
Risch said that U.S. troops have not been injected into active hostilities in the Yemen civil war but are providing limited non-combat support to the Saudi-led coalition. The support, he noted, includes intelligence sharing and practices that have been developed to minimize civilian casualties.
“Our limited support is intended to prevent the conflict in Yemen from escalating,” he said.
Risch acknowledged a growing gap in relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and that some aspects of Saudi behavior are “cause for serious, serious concern.” He said his committee is looking at developing bipartisan legislation to address them.
Risch did not offer specific examples of bad behavior by Saudi Arabia, but Murphy and others did.
Murphy said the Saudi-led coalition continues to drop bombs on civilian targets, noting that March 26 airstrikes reportedly hit a hospital supported by Save the Children in northwest Yemen killing at least seven including four children.
Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen pointed to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was killed by a team of Saudi operatives last fall at a Saudi embassy in Turkey. The CIA has concluded that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was “complicit in that murder,” Van Hollen said.
He also said that Saudi Arabia beheaded 37 citizens last week and the government recently detained two U.S.-Saudi dual citizens for their work promoting women’s rights in the kingdom.