WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed a measure aimed at withdrawing all U.S. military support for the Saudi Arabia-backed war in Yemen, the latest in a series of rebukes by Congress to President Donald Trump's foreign policy.
The Democratic-led House advanced the bill, 248-177, as its first major vote on foreign policy, making it priority even as the administration resists congressional involvement in the conflict. Last year, with Republicans in the majority, the House refused to take up the measure in order to keep the president's hands from being tied on a key foreign policy area.
Because a similar bill has passed the Senate before and is likely to pass again, it could be the first veto of Trump's presidency.
The resolution, authored by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., has strong support from both sides of the aisle. It would invoke the War Powers Resolution, inserting congressional oversight into the conflict in Yemen, effectively ending U.S. involvement and military assistance to the civil war there between the Yemen government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
“It’s overdue,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the measure.
The bill is the result of a long-running debate between Congress and the executive branch over war-making authority, but it's also the latest example of a Congress, including members of the president's own party, increasingly asserting its voice against his foreign policy in a number of critical areas. The Senate passed a similar resolution in December, with the support of a handful of Republicans.
Criticism in Congress escalated after the administration refused to place blame on Saudi Arabia for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, despite U.S. intelligence that shows a “high confidence” Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was involved.
Members are also concerned about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where food and supplies are being blocked by the Saudi-led coalition. Aid groups and the United Nations say 14 million people are on the brink of starvation and more than 85,000 children have already died from malnutrition.
And critics say Trump’s foreign policy is inconsistent as he’s supporting a continuation of the U.S.’s role in that conflict even as he has ordered the withdrawal of troops in Syria and Afghanistan.
Pressure from Congress has already forced the Trump administration to halt one of the major U.S. support roles in Yemen — the midflight refueling of Saudi planes. Supporters of the resolution say additional congressional action would prevent it from restarting and would remove all military support, including logistical support, intelligence sharing and threat analysis.
“The administration has changed for the better,” Khanna said in an interview, adding that the current measure “will force their hands and force them to make peace.”
In an attempt to lobby Congress from passing a war powers resolution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told members in November that the parties are advancing peace talks. While they have resulted in a ceasefire, there has not been a breakthrough on the broader political stalemate.
“The message we want to send is first of all, Yemen is a humanitarian crisis. It’s been going on some period of time, we’ve expected the Saudis to do some things that they haven’t done in terms of the prosecution of that conflict," House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday. "In addition to that, we have not seen any actions by them to hold anyone accountable in a real way for the killing of Khashoggi, the Washington Post reporter.”
But some Republicans are opposing the proposal, including Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who say it will defer peace and embolden Iran.
"This resolution is not only a dangerous precedent legally — it violates the construction of the War Powers Act — but it is damaging, it is very bad policy," McCaul said on the House floor ahead of the vote.
The Senate will be forced to take up the measure again, most likely in the last week of February. Never before has resolution to end military action reached the president's desk since the War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973.