The Senate resolution invoking the War Powers Act to demand the administration seek congressional authorization or withdraw American support from Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen was defeated Tuesday by a vote of 55-44.
Five Republicans senators – Susan Collins (R-ME), Steve Daines (R-MT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) – voted to advance the resolution, while ten Democrats broke with their broader party ranks to oppose it.
Compared to last year’s Senate vote condemning U.S. provision of the refueling, targeting assistance, and other military aid to the Saudi war in Yemen begun under President Barack Obama, several senators switched their vote and opposed the resolution: Todd Young (R-IN), Dean Heller (R-NV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). With these senators votes, the resolution would have passed, bolstered by the switch in the opposite direction by vulnerable red state Democrat Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
Arraigned against the resolution were a broad spectrum of foreign policy internationalists, including the Republican Party establishment. NBC News reported Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was “actively working against” the bill. Reports indicate that Defense Secretary James Mattis was on Capitol Hill Tuesday working to prevent it from passing.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board issued a savage rebuke to the resolution’s supporters, calling them “the Senate’s Iran helpers” and mocking the concept of the War Powers Act, writing:
Mr. Lee should review his pocket Constitution. The War Powers Resolution passed over the veto of Richard Nixon and has been declared unconstitutional or ignored by every succeeding President because it interferes with the executive’s authority to conduct U.S. military and foreign policy.
The piece went on to argue the 9/11 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force in the Global War on Terror allows for perpetual U.S. involvement in Yemen, but suggests the resolution is inappropriate in throwing its weight entirely behind ostensibly reformist Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, positing he “is trying to diminish the influence” of the extreme Salafi Islam that his very monarchy supports as the official religion of his Kingdom. The WSJ writes:
Passing the resolution would also needlessly insult Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old leader who is visiting the U.S. this week to expand U.S.-Saudi ties and promote his unprecedented reforms. The Saudis are crucial antiterror allies, and Prince Salman is trying to diminish the influence of radical Salafist imams at home.
The editorial may also expose the real purpose behind a competing, and largely toothless, alternative proposed by Sens. Todd Young (R-IN) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), which merely asks for reports on U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. According to the War Powers Act opponents at the WSJ, they “have introduced an alternative resolution that would require the Secretary of State to report to Congress periodically on the Yemen conflict, which is fine.” (Emphasis added.)
Shortly after the resolution was defeated, the Senate voted, 53-47, to approve the sale of $510 million dollars of new weaponry, including precision-guided bombs, for the Saudis. “The flaws of the Saudi government are real,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CNN after the sale was approved. “But my friends on the other side, particularly Sen. Paul, constantly put Saudi Arabia and Iran on the same footing. I think that is a very unwise analysis — to suggest that Saudi Arabia is just as bad as Iran is just missing the point big time.”
The War Powers Act resolution, originally introduced with support from the left-right coalition of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT), had the potential to serve as the catalyst for a trans-ideological political realignment, casting the populist anti-interventionist right with the populist anti-war left. It gave the administration 30 days to end U.S. involvement in Yemen or to get a resolution from Congress authorizing the involvement.
The bill made use of 1973’s War Powers Act, the controversial effort by Congress to retake its constitutionally granted power to declare war from an executive that, in the 20th Century, increasingly sought to take military action unilaterally.
After its introduction, the bill picked up seven additional Democratic senators as sponsors and the support of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), sometimes seen as the more moderate heir to the anti-war rightist tradition carried by his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). Thirty-seven ideologically diverse foreign policy figures also made their support known in an open letter.