Congress Demands Yemen Withdrawal, Lacks Votes to Override Trump’s Veto

(Bloomberg) -- The House voted to direct President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, an implicit rebuke of the president for his continued support of Saudi Arabia after the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The resolution adopted 247-175 on Thursday now goes to the president, who has promised to issue the second veto of his administration. Lawmakers are pushing to end a conflict that has ravaged one of the world’s poorest countries.

The Senate approved the measure in March. It directs the president to remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless further engagement is authorized by Congress.

"If the Saudis don’t stop their blockade and let food and medicine in, within six months we’ll see one of the great humanitarian crises in the world," Representative Ro Khanna, the California Democrat who sponsored the measure, said on the House floor before the vote. "That should be a bipartisan issue that this Congress speak with a moral voice that food and medicine should get to civilians."

Senators have been pushing for increased sanctions on Saudi Arabia even as Trump has emphasized the importance of the U.S. alliance with the kingdom and insisted that it’s uncertain whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi killed.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and columnist for the Washington Post, was strangled at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and his body was dismembered, the city’s chief prosecutor has said. The Senate unanimously assigned blame for the killing to Prince Mohammed on the same day it passed the Yemen resolution for the first time. That measure was never taken up by the Republican-controlled House.

‘Flawed’ Measure

Thursday’s House vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto from an administration that called the measure "flawed" and said it would hamper U.S. ability to prevent the spread of violent extremism in the region. The White House has said the resolution, S.J.Res. 7, would harm relationships with allies and make it harder to support diplomatic negotiations to end the conflict.

When the Senate voted for the resolution in March, seven Republicans joined with Democrats, also short of a veto-proof majority.

The House first adopted the resolution in February, though with a last-minute amendment added when some Democrats joined Republicans to include language opposing anti-Semitism. The Senate then adopted a version without that provision, and the House on Thursday rejected a GOP attempt to add a similar amendment.

Khanna told his colleagues before the vote that he agreed with Democratic leaders who urged members to oppose any last-minute changes this time.

“I have supported very strongly resolutions condemning anti-Semitism, but I also don’t think that these tactics should be used as weapons to prevent the efforts to stop the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world,” Khanna said on the House floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that while he has "grave concerns" about Saudi Arabia’s behavior, particularly regarding Khashoggi’s murder, he has argued that the Yemen resolution is "unnecessary and counterproductive" and would make it harder to end the war by restricting U.S. diplomatic leverage in the region.

This is not the first time the Congress has countered a president on Saudi Arabia policy. In 2016, Congress overturned a veto by President Barack Obama of a bill that would allow the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to sue the kingdom.

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