Peace advocates and progressives applauded Thursday as the Senate approved resolutions to block the Trump administration from using emergency authority to bypass Congress and allow more than $8 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are leading a war on Yemen.
"Congress is forcing the president to either stop arming countries that are using U.S. weapons to starve the people of Yemen, or issue more vetoes and defend the indefensible."
—Paul Kawika Martin, Peace Action
The GOP-controlled Senate considered 22 resolutions of disapproval—one for each weapons contract the administration tried to push through.
A small number of Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the measures: 20 that were voted on collectively passed 51-45, and the other two passed 53-45. See the full roll call votes here. The resolutions now head to the Democrat-held House, where they are expected to pass.
Although President Donald Trump may veto the resolutions if they reach his desk—as he did in April with a War Powers resolution approved by Congress—critics of U.S. complicity in the Saudi and UAE coalition's war in Yemen still welcomed the Senate votes as, in the words of Peace Action's Paul Kawika Martin, "yet another rebuke to this administration's reckless foreign policy in the Middle East."
By approving these resolutions, Martin said Thursday, "Congress is forcing the president to either stop arming countries that are using U.S. weapons to starve the people of Yemen, or issue more vetoes and defend the indefensible. If Trump does veto these resolutions, Congress should vote to override in order to help bring the terrible war in Yemen to an end."
The Senate makes it clear that we must:
— CODEPINK (@codepink) June 20, 2019
A group of lawmakers led by Sens. Bob Menedez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) started working together to block the weapons sales in late May, when the Trump administration confirmed that it planned to exploit a loophole in the Arms Export Control Act to allow U.S. weapons companies to export arms to members of the Saudi and UAE-led coalition slaughtering and starving Yemeni civilians.
Win Without War executive director Stephen Miles, in a statement Thursday, praised the Senate for challenging the Trump administration's "brazen power grab" to enable weapons sales that would "make the U.S. further complicit in the brutal war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, while rewarding Saudi Arabia and the UAE for their war crimes."
This is a huge victory that reasserts the power of Congress. It is also a recognition that Trump can no longer ignore the human rights violations and attacks on civilians in #Yemen . The time for unquestioning military support for Saudi Arabia is over. https://t.co/mTE8mKnRUF
— Win Without War (@WinWithoutWar) June 20, 2019
Noting that research conducted by human rights advocates "indicates that arms manufactured in the U.S. have been used in deadly strikes against civilians," Amnesty International advocacy director for Middle East and North Africa Philippe Nassif said Thursday that "by supplying arms to this coalition, the U.S. government has already devastated the lives of thousands."
"Halting this emergency arms delivery could prevent enormous harm to families and individuals in Yemen," he added. "Yet there is still much more that can be done. Congress must ban all arms sales to the coalition and hold Saudi Arabia accountable for human rights abuses by passing the bipartisan Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019."
Among those promising to continue fighting the administration's support for the war in Yemen is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who voted for the measures Thursday and sponsored the War Powers resolution that Trump vetoed in April.
This president is going to have to learn that he is not a dictator, that there is a Constitution and a separation of powers in this country. https://t.co/pEcIFVqJtY
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 20, 2019
"Repeatedly, we see this president using phony 'emergency' declarations to sidestep the law to get what he wants," said Sanders, who is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. "The fact that he is transferring these weapons at a time when the Saudis and Emiratis are waging a catastrophic war in Yemen, a war that a bipartisan majority in Congress has declared to be unauthorized and illegal, is even more outrageous."
"I will do everything I can to assert Congress's power over the purse to end the war in Yemen and block these weapons from being used by the Saudis in that war," the senator vowed. "Trump should not do the bidding of the repressive, undemocratic regime of Saudi Arabia, which was exposed this week by the United Nations for the premeditated killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the coverup of that crime."