The Senate shot down an attempt Tuesday to force the U.S. to halt its support for one of the sides in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, giving President Trump a free hand to continue aiding a Saudi-led coalition in the fight.
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Bernard Sanders, had called for an end to American support, saying only Congress can declare wars to commit military support and Congress has not done so.
They forced a vote on a resolution that would have required the U.S. to cease “hostilities” in Yemen.
But senators voted 55-44 to table that resolution, undercutting efforts to force a broad rethink of the U.S. in the proxy war, where the Pentagon is providing aircraft refueling and targeting capabilities to Saudi Arabia-backed forces, who are battling Iran-backed forces for supremacy in the Arabian Peninsula nation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said halting assistance would make the conflict more deadly for civilians, and would also be seen as a victory for Iran.
“It would signal that we are not serious about containing Iran or its proxies. The Houthi presence would continue threatening shipping lanes in the Red Sea. Iranian missiles would continue threatening Riyadh. And Iran would be further emboldened,” Mr. McConnell said.
He also questioned whether providing refueling and sharing intelligence on targets rose to the level of “hostilities” that could be halted by congressional action under the War Powers Resolution.
Mr. Sanders, who led the push for the vote, said Congress was failing in its duties by ducking the debate, and compared U.S. intervention to conflicts in Iraq and Vietnam, where he said the country was “misled” into war.
“The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, with U.S. support, has been a humanitarian disaster,” he said.
“Instead of supplying bombs and refueling capabilities, we should be doing everything possible to create a peaceful resolution to that civil war and provide humanitarian help.”
The vote turned out to be somewhat close. Five Republicans voted in support of ending the U.S. role in the civil war: Sens. Susan Collins, Steve Daines, Mike Lee, Jerry Moran and Rand Paul.
But 10 Democrats sided with the rest of the GOP, delivering a victory to the administration. They were Sens. Chris Coons, Catherine Cortez-Masto, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, Bob Menendez, Bill Nelson, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.
The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they do plan to hold hearings looking at the 2002 authorization for use of force against al Qaeda, which has been stretched to justify U.S. military action in terrorist hotspots far beyond the original Afghanistan base of operations from which the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were launched.