US House rebukes Trump on Saudi Arabia, backs measure to end Yemen involvement

Trump speaks during a meeting in the Cabinet room at the White House.
Trump speaks during a meeting in the Cabinet room at the White House.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US House of Representatives approved a resolution on Thursday that would end all US involvement with the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the war in Yemen, rebuffing President Donald Trump's policy of continued support for the kingdom.

As the resolution had already passed the Senate, the vote in the Democratic-led House sends the measure to the White House, which said last month Trump would issue a veto. It would be the second of his presidency.

The vote in the House was 247-175, as 16 Republicans joined the majority Democrats in backing the rare use of the War Powers Act, which limits the president's ability to send troops into action.

Thursday's vote marked the first time both chambers of Congress have supported a War Powers resolution.

"The president will have to face the reality that Congress is no longer going to ignore its constitutional obligations when it comes to foreign policy," Representative Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said before the vote.

Still, neither the House tally nor the 54-46 bipartisan vote in the Senate, where Republicans have a slim majority, would be enough to override a veto.

The four-year-long civil war in Yemen, which pits the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels backed by Iran, has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned what the United Nations calls the world's most dire humanitarian crisis, with the country on the brink of famine.

KILLING OF KHASHOGGI

Backers of the War Powers resolution said the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen had made the humanitarian crisis worse, harshly criticizing Riyadh for killing civilians.

They also argued that US involvement in Yemen violated the constitutional requirement that Congress, not the president, should determine when the country goes to war.

Resolution opponents argued that support for the Saudi-led coalition was not an appropriate use of the War Powers Act, because the military provides support such as targeting assistance, not troops on the ground.

They also argued that it could boost Iran, arch-rival of US ally Israel.

Defence Department spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement after the vote that new restrictions on US military support could "increase civilian casualties, jeopardise cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, undercut UN-led peace negotiations at a critical point, and embolden Iran."

 

Getting the measure passed took months, but support grew after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October.

Both Democrats and Republicans have said they believe Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi's death. Riyadh has denied he ordered the killing.

House Republicans derailed the resolution earlier this year by tying it to a measure condemning anti-Semitism. They tried to stop it again on Thursday by adding a provision opposing the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement tied to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

That effort failed in the House and was condemned by the House Democratic majority leader, Representative Steny Hoyer, as a "cynical, political ploy."

Overcoming Trump's veto would require two-thirds majorities in both the Senate and House.