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The ruins of a house destroyed in a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen. (Photo: Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters)

"Indifferent to Yemen's Misery," Senate Approves Massive Saudi Arms Deal

A bipartisan resolution to block the $1.15 billion weapons sale failed 71-27

Nika Knight

Update 4pm EST:

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to dismiss a bipartisan bill that would have blocked a massive $1.15 billion weapons shipment to Saudi Arabia, to the dismay of peace groups and rights advocates who have called on the U.S. to end its support for the brutal Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen.

The bipartisan resolution to block the weapons sale failed 71-27, with two senators not voting.

During the floor debate, many of those in favor of the weapons sale echoed Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who declared: "This is a sale that benefits us." Although even Corker admitted Saudi Arabia is not a "perfect ally" and that many civilians had been killed in Yemen, he argued that the massive sale of new weapons should be approved because it will benefit the U.S. economically. Corker further claimed that arming the Saudi regime serves U.S. geopolitical interests by pushing back against the Iranians, who support the anti-Saudi Houthi factions in Yemen.

Voting in favor of the arms deal were right-wing senators such as Corker and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) alongside several centrist Democrats, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

"The courage and common sense of a minority of senators will be cold comfort to the millions of Yemenis struggling to survive without adequate food or health services amidst daily bombing and shelling."
—Ray Offenheiser, Oxfam America
But many progressives said that they were at least heartened to see the much-ignored issue of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses in Yemen be debated publicly on Capitol Hill—and urged elected officials to sustain that debate.

"For nearly a year and a half, the United States has fueled a conflict that has threatened the lives of millions in Yemen without any meaningful debate. The parties fighting this war—including the Saudi-led coalition supported by the U.S.—have demonstrated a startling indifference to civilian lives," said Oxfam America president Ray Offenheiser. "Today, for the first time since the war in Yemen began, 27 senators voiced the first cries of dissent against our government's unconditional and unlimited support for the Saudi-led coalition."

"The very fact that we are voting on [this resolution to block the arms sale] today sends a very important message to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia that we are watching your actions closely and that the United States is not going to turn a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said during the floor debate.

"Today's vote should [...] be the beginning, not the end, of a larger debate involving America's involvement in the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led military campaign has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths," peace advocacy group Win Without War wrote.

"Of course, the courage and common sense of a minority of senators will be cold comfort to the millions of Yemenis struggling to survive without adequate food or health services amidst daily bombing and shelling," Offenheiser added. "Today, millions of Yemenis are on the verge of starvation and more than 10,000 children under 5 have died from preventable diseases. Every tank, missile, and gallon of jet fuel supplied by the U.S. to the Saudi-led coalition is a clear signal that the U.S. is indifferent to Yemen's misery."

The full roll call follows (alphabetical by senator):

Alexander (R-TN), Yea
Ayotte (R-NH), Yea
Baldwin (D-WI), Nay
Barrasso (R-WY), Yea
Bennet (D-CO), Yea
Blumenthal (D-CT), Nay
Blunt (R-MO), Yea
Booker (D-NJ), Nay
Boozman (R-AR), Yea
Boxer (D-CA), Nay
Brown (D-OH), Yea
Burr (R-NC), Yea
Cantwell (D-WA), Nay
Capito (R-WV), Yea
Cardin (D-MD), Yea
Carper (D-DE), Yea
Casey (D-PA), Yea
Cassidy (R-LA), Yea
Coats (R-IN), Yea
Cochran (R-MS), Yea
Collins (R-ME), Yea
Coons (D-DE), Yea
Corker (R-TN), Yea
Cornyn (R-TX), Yea
Cotton (R-AR), Yea
Crapo (R-ID), Yea
Cruz (R-TX), Yea
Daines (R-MT), Yea
Donnelly (D-IN), Yea
Durbin (D-IL), Nay
Enzi (R-WY), Yea
Ernst (R-IA), Yea
Feinstein (D-CA), Yea
Fischer (R-NE), Yea
Flake (R-AZ), Yea
Franken (D-MN), Nay
Gardner (R-CO), Yea
Gillibrand (D-NY), Nay
Graham (R-SC), Yea
Grassley (R-IA), Yea
Hatch (R-UT), Yea
Heinrich (D-NM), Nay
Heitkamp (D-ND), Yea
Heller (R-NV), Nay
Hirono (D-HI), Nay
Hoeven (R-ND), Yea
Inhofe (R-OK), Yea
Isakson (R-GA), Yea
Johnson (R-WI), Yea
Kaine (D-VA), Not Voting
King (I-ME), Yea
Kirk (R-IL), Nay
Klobuchar (D-MN), Nay
Lankford (R-OK), Yea
Leahy (D-VT), Nay
Lee (R-UT), Nay
Manchin (D-WV), Yea
Markey (D-MA), Nay
McCain (R-AZ), Yea
McCaskill (D-MO), Yea
McConnell (R-KY), Yea
Menendez (D-NJ), Yea
Merkley (D-OR), Yea
Mikulski (D-MD), Yea
Moran (R-KS), Yea
Murkowski (R-AK), Yea
Murphy (D-CT), Nay
Murray (D-WA), Nay
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Paul (R-KY), Nay
Perdue (R-GA), Yea
Peters (D-MI), Yea
Portman (R-OH), Yea
Reed (D-RI), Yea
Reid (D-NV), Nay
Risch (R-ID), Yea
Roberts (R-KS), Yea
Rounds (R-SD), Yea
Rubio (R-FL), Yea
Sanders (I-VT), Nay
Sasse (R-NE), Yea
Schatz (D-HI), Nay
Schumer (D-NY), Yea
Scott (R-SC), Yea
Sessions (R-AL), Yea
Shaheen (D-NH), Yea
Shelby (R-AL), Yea
Stabenow (D-MI), Nay
Sullivan (R-AK), Yea
Tester (D-MT), Nay
Thune (R-SD), Not Voting
Tillis (R-NC), Yea
Toomey (R-PA), Yea
Udall (D-NM), Nay
Vitter (R-LA), Yea
Warner (D-VA), Yea
Warren (D-MA), Nay
Whitehouse (D-RI), Yea
Wicker (R-MS), Yea
Wyden (D-OR), Nay



Following peace activists' and human rights advocates' months-long calls for an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen, a bipartisan bill to block a planned $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia is currently being debated in the U.S. Senate, with a vote on the bill scheduled for this afternoon.

The legislation is sponsored by Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

"Is this really the right time for the U.S. to send billions of dollars of more weapons to the Middle East?" said Murphy during the floor debate. "Let's ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with the U.S. getting slowly, predictably, and all too quietly drawn into another war in the Middle East. What will it take for us to learn our lesson?"

Ahead of the vote, Win Without War was among numerous anti-war groups urging constituents to tell their senators to vote against the deal.

Among other concerns, during the debate the Democratic sponsors of the bill cited Saudi Arabia's alleged war crimes and human rights violations—including the growing number of civilian casualties from the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen—while the Republican sponsors, including Rand, objected to U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict without the authorization of Congress.

In addition to providing weapons to the Saudis, the U.S. is providing the kingdom with military advisors and intelligence. The U.S. is also conducting drone strikes in Yemen.

"Because the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has continued to kill civilians in Yemen, we're seeing more and more outrage from Congress."
—Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)

"The huge civilian death toll of Yemen, along with ever-growing U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, is putting the U.S. under growing criticism both domestically and abroad for supporting Saudi war crimes," as Jason Ditz put it Tuesday on "The Saudi use of U.S. munitions throughout the war has only added to the perception that the U.S. sales are directly in support of the disastrous war."

International aid group Oxfam released a new report (pdf) on the bloody conflict in Yemen on Wednesday, starkly illustrating the devastation in the besieged country: "Eighteen months of war has destroyed the lives of millions of Yemenis," said Sajjad Mohamed Sajid, Oxfam's Country Director in Yemen. "Twenty million people are in need of aid for survival and half the country goes to bed hungry every night. The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye as the most vulnerable continue to pay the highest price in this brutal conflict."

"World powers need to focus their efforts to pushing for and supporting peace, and provide immediate humanitarian aid to help the millions of people on the edge of starvation," Sajid added.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supports the arms deal, but allowed the vote to go forward on Wednesday.

Many proponents of the arms deal claimed that pulling out of the sale would signal that "America is out of the fight," as Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) put it during Wednesday's debate, arguing that "the enemies" in Iran would join forces with Saudi Arabia if the U.S. no longer appeared to be an ally.

Whether it succeeds or fails, the vote could be a sign that Saudi influence in Washington is waning, some pundits argued.

Indeed, Murphy told the Connecticut Mirror that "even if the 'motion of disapproval' failed, it would send Saudi Arabia a strong message and the debate over his resolution will help inform Americans of U.S. involvement in Yemen."

It does appear that opposition to Saudi Arabia is growing on Capitol Hill: on Tuesday Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) introduced a similar bill in the House to block the arms sale. The first co-sponsor was Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), signaling the increasing bipartisan support for such legislation.

"Because the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has continued to kill civilians in Yemen, we're seeing more and more outrage from Congress," Lieu told Salon.

Watch the Senate floor debate on C-SPAN here, and those wishing to call their senators before the vote can find their contact information here.

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