Bipartisan Populist Coalition Energizes Mike Lee, Bernie Sanders Effort to Stop Illegal U.S. Involvement in Saudi War in Yemen

Yemen Funeral Saudi War
AFP/Getty Images
Washington, D.C.

A bipartisan populist coalition is energizing an effort by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) to invoke the war powers resolution to stop an illegal U.S. war for which there is no congressional authorization.

First started under former President Barack Obama, and continued under President Donald Trump, the United States has been—illegally, without congressional authorization—providing logistics, support, weapons, supplies, and even U.S. personnel involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthis in Yemen.

Anti-establishment populist Republicans and Democrats on and off Capitol Hill are rallying behind the resolution.

“We must stop selling weapons and lending forces to Saudi Arabia, a country whose royals were complicit in funding 9/11 attacks,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), a very anti-establishment Republican, told Breitbart News late last week when asked for his reaction to the resolution’s Senate introduction. “As Congress has yet to authorize military force for hostilities between the Saudis and Houthis, America has no place being involved in the unconstitutional conflict in Yemen.”

Similarly anti-establishment Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) told Breitbart News exclusively that he applauds the effort by Lee, Sanders, and Murphy.

“Our nation’s military involvement in Yemen, the worst humanitarian crisis in our modern world, is unconstitutional and unauthorized,” Khanna said in an emailed statement to Breitbart News. “I applaud Senators Sanders, Murphy, and Lee for their leadership on their resolution in the Senate. Together, we can work across the aisle to utilize the constitutional powers of Congress and remove our unauthorized forces from conflict in Yemen.”

Sens. Sanders and Lee are out publicly working their networks to build support for the resolution as it stands right now. Sanders said last week at the press conference rolling out the bill with Lee:

This is not a partisan issue. Support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen began under a Democratic president, and has continued under a Republican president. Sen. Lee is a conservative Republican. I am a progressive independent who caucuses with the Democrats. In November of last year, the House of Representatives with a strong bipartisan vote voted overwhelmingly for a non-binding resolution stating that U.S. involvement in the Yemen civil war is unauthorized. Only 30 members of the House voted against that resolution and that is what we are saying today—we are in agreement with the vast majority of the Democrats and Republicans in the House.

Lee has echoed that point from Sanders about this not being partisan. Lee said in an interview on Facebook Live with FreedomWorks, a leading conservative grassroots organization:

As Sen. Sanders and I stood on that podium the other day, sharing that podium for the purposes of introducing this bill, I heard him speak. And I think I agree with basically everything he said. He was speaking in terms of separation of powers, of the balance of power between the three branches of government, and sounded and was acting like a true constitutionalist in that circumstance. He and I don’t agree on everything. Where we do agree, there is an opportunity that we both see to bring people together on both sides of the political spectrum. This is one of those opportunities.

WATCH MIKE LEE INTERVIEW WITH FREEDOMWORKS:

That’s exactly what’s happening. Typically, bipartisan efforts in Washington—especially those from non-leadership or anti-establishment members of the House and Senate—are in vain at best, and unserious and self-gratifying talking point generators that allow participants to claim they are not doctrinaire or extreme in their views at worst. They are also usually simply member-level discussions that allow senators or congressmen to go on television and claim they are working with the other side and being reasonable, without much staff-level or organizational coalition-level support from the grassroots power brokers and fearsome activists who really move the needle across Washington.

This effort is different. There is actual, true bipartisan energy at the grassroots level in support of this resolution, something that may really pass the Senate over the opposition of the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If it passes, or comes as close as previous similar efforts have, it would be a true demonstration of anti-establishment power—and of weakness on McConnell’s part, that he was not able to stop Senate passage of a resolution he opposes.

Robert Naiman, a left-wing anti-establishment populist who serves as the policy director of Just Foreign Policy, appeared on Breitbart News Saturday on SiriusXM Patriot Channel 125 this past weekend to discuss just that.

“This isn’t really a left-right issue,” Naiman said. “It’s a constitution issue. It’s also a bottom-top issue. The bipartisan elites in Washington, they love war. They love war. It’s in both parties. You have [John] McCain and [Lindsey] Graham in the Republican Party. You have people like Steny Hoyer and Eliot Engel in the Democratic Party. There’s a matrix of interest. First of all, you have the Saudi and UAE [United Arab Emirates] governments throwing money all over Washington lubricating the think tanks with money for people that support their line. Then, they have the Pentagon contractors who get to sell the weapons and they’re spreading money all over Washington. And then you have the Neo-Cons, who of course in turn are funded by the Saudis and the arms contractors. They’re always pushing for more war, more war in the Middle East, and to support the Saudis and the UAE. So, you have this matrix of interest which is very powerful—but their power is greatest when the American people are not engaged.”

Naiman is right that the other side is powerful, and has deep pockets. McConnell has aligned with Saudi Arabian-financed interests, and the money comes from deep pockets and influential power brokers throughout Washington. But a hard push from the grassroots in all directions, a purely populist drive, could be enough to overpower the Senate Majority Leader and the special interests and stop an unconstitutional war in progress for the first time in U.S. history.

This effort from Sanders, Lee, and Murphy is truly historic and unprecedented, in that in its history the War Powers Resolution has never been used to rein in U.S. war activity already under way. But there is at least some precedent whereby Congress has used a threat of this process to rein in a lawless executive, again with regard to now former President Barack Obama’s abandoned plans to go to war in Syria in 2013.

“We can beat them when the people get out their pitchforks—and we saw that in August of 2013, which is really the most recent precedent like this where there was this huge bipartisan populist coalition that defeated President Obama when he tried to go to war in Syria against the Syrian government without congressional authorization in the August recess—because that’s the way that they like to do it, when Congress is on recess,” Naiman said on Breitbart News Saturday. “That’s how they did Libya, when Congress was on recess. That’s how they tried to do Syria, when Congress was on recess. Two hundred bipartisan members of the House wrote to the president and said: ‘You can’t do this without us, under Article I and the War Powers Resolution. You need our approval before you do this. If this is an emergency, we’re ready to be called back into session and come back to Washington. If it’s not an emergency, it can wait until we come back out of session and back to Washington.’ President Obama backed down, knowing he couldn’t get the votes for an authorization for the use of military force and then he went for a diplomatic solution with Russia over the use of chemical weapons.”

LISTEN TO ROBERT NAIMAN ON BREITBART NEWS SATURDAY:

There is also some precedent where populist forces have successfully defeated Saudi Arabian lobbyist cash in Congress: The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), in 2016, passed the House of Representatives unanimously and passed the U.S. Senate without opposition. Former President Barack Obama, under pressure from the Saudis, vetoed the bill, but then both Houses of Congress on a bipartisan basis overrode Obama’s Saudi-backed veto to pass the bill into law–the only time in his eight years as president that one of Obama’s vetoes was overridden by Congress.

Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow who advocated for congressional passage of JASTA over Saudi objections and Obama’s eventually congressionally overridden veto, is backing this effort as well. Her husband Ron was killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001–and her story is highlighted on the website 28pages.org.

Breitweiser said in a statement highlighted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is also supporting the resolution from Lee and Sanders:

We have worked tirelessly to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its alleged financial and logistical role in the killing of 3,000 men, women and children on September 11th, yet many in Washington would prefer to shield and reward the Saudi regime as it pursues policies that predictably spawn more terrorism across the world. I wholeheartedly support the bipartisan effort of U.S. Senators to bring a secret U.S.-Saudi war out of the shadows and force a vote to end our unconstitutional U.S. participation in Saudi Arabia’s attacks on innocent people in Yemen.”

Monica Gabrielle, another 9/11 widow whose husband Rich was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is also backing the effort regarding Yemen, as she did with JASTA. Gabrielle said in a statement published on the Congressional Progressive Caucus website:

For 16 years, my fellow September 11th widows and I have been fighting for justice and accountability. We were obstructed by the Bush Administration and then the Obama Administration, but we were vindicated last year when an overwhelming majority of Congress overrode a presidential veto to let us move closer to our day in court against the government of Saudi Arabia. I call on the Senate to show the same courage now as it did when it passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Congress must vote to end unconstitutional U.S. participation in a senseless Saudi-led war that is both fueling Yemen’s enormous human suffering while empowering Al Qaeda.

Both Breitweiser and Gabrielle, among other 9/11 widows, released powerful videos during the run-up to the JASTA passage, telling their stories:

A similar grassroots anti-establishment effort to hold the Saudis, who did provide logistical and financial support for the 9/11 terrorists, accountable–rather than providing them with weapons and assistance from the United States military for their war in Yemen–is emerging now.

In an email the day after the Sanders-Lee press conference rolling out the bill, FreedomWorks president Adam Brandon told Breitbart News that this is not a typical partisan issue in Washington.

“I think Senator Mike Lee said it best yesterday — this issue ‘is neither liberal, nor conservative. It’s constitutional,’” Brandon said. “Our Constitution grants Congress the exclusive power to declare war, yet the ongoing conflict in Yemen remains undeclared. It’s no surprise that this resolution has such broad, ideologically diverse support.”

Brandon appeared on Breitbart News Saturday this weekend right after Naiman and made a conservative case for this resolution.

“Wars are expensive,” Brandon said. “They are incredibly expensive, especially open-ended wars where we don’t know what we’re trying to do, who our allies are. This isn’t just a war. This is a civil war, where I’m sure there are people who suck on both sides. So, I’m not sure I’m ready to commit time and treasure of the U.S. government unless we have a specific policy goal here. So, our position is this is a constitutional crisis we have here. We have spent so much money overseas, wasted it, on wars with no end. Let’s get back to our Constitution and declare war, and focus it. And when we go to war, let’s go to war. But if we’re not going to go to war, let’s get Congress back into the driver’s seat of trying to have a check on the presidency.”

Brandon added that the Pentagon has never explained to the American public or to Congress exactly how many taxpayer dollars are being spent on the U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

“Well, what’s tended to happen in the past is the Pentagon has its budget, which let’s just say right now is $700 billion,” Brandon said. “Then these conflicts grow and we get these little supplemental ‘we need another $50 billion here, and $100 billion there.’ It just leaks out into these conflicts. Then, once you start having American soldiers die it starts getting really expensive because now you really have to get in there because Americans are dying. Someone gave me a great analogy in that this is like a bank robber, and the Saudis are robbing the bank—but we’re driving the getaway car, and we’re providing outlines to the bank. It seems to me at some point, we’re becoming bank robbers too. Basically, what this resolution says is you got to stop doing this. If you hear these things, the satellites, the air refueling. I know what it costs me to fill up my car with a tank of gas, I can only imagine what it costs to fill up a Saudi warplane while flying at 500 miles an hour over a desert. That’s pretty expensive.”

LISTEN TO ADAM BRANDON ON BREITBART NEWS SATURDAY:

The coalition that has emerged to back the Lee-Sanders-Murphy resolution is broad and diverse. Lefties like Just Foreign Policy’s Naiman, or Peace Action’s Paul Kawika Martin and the anti-Trump grassroots group Indivisible are working alongside conservatives and libertarian and conservative pro-Trump forces like FreedomWorks, former Ronald Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein, the Campaign for Liberty’s Norm Singleton, and many more on both sides.

Across the board in the coalition, too, while there are certainly differences on other matters, there is unity of purpose in a drive to 51 votes in the U.S. Senate on this fight.

“The U.S. role in Yemen has made us complicit in human rights violations, war crimes and suffering on a massive scale. American taxpayers have been floating the bill for mid-air refuelings of Saudi warplanes, but the people of Yemen are paying the real price,” Kawika Martin told Breitbart News, for instance.

“Opposition to reckless war making is an issue that crosses party and ideological lines, uniting Ron Paul libertarians with Dennis Kucinich progressives,” Singleton added in a separate quote to Breitbart News. “It is also a key part of the America First nationalism that propelled Donald Trump into the White House. The upcoming debate provides Congress and the administration with an opportunity to side with the anti-war majority.”

Interestingly, even though the libertarian roots of his father’s revolution back it, it remains an open-ended question whether Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) himself will join the effort despite differences he has with some of the language.

“In principle, I agree with [the resolution’s co-sponsors] that the war in Yemen hasn’t been authorized and we shouldn’t be fighting without authorization,” Paul told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview this week, wherein he also detailed differences he has with the language in part of the resolution.

But, even if Paul does not come around, this resolution has a really good chance at success. In a piece he wrote for U.S. News and World Report, Naiman laid out the history of similar efforts in the Senate as a benchmark that puts the opening baseline around the high 40s of senators supporting this to open the battle, but with about a week left in the countdown clock to a Senate floor vote, there is plenty of room for not just GOP pickups but pickups among red state Democrats as well. Naiman wrote:

The Sanders-Lee Yemen war powers resolution will get a vote. While this tool has never been used to force a Senate vote on war powers, it has been used to force Senate votes on arms sales. In September 2016 and June 2017, these provisions of law were used to force Senate votes on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The resolution could pass the Senate, because the margin of the June 2017 vote was narrow. Forty-seven Senators – 43 Democrats and four Republicans – voted against continuing to arm Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. If the same 47 vote against Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen again – and the war and humanitarian catastrophe have only gotten worse since June – then four more Senators voting against Saudi Arabia’s war would make 51. In June, five Democratic Senators voted to keep arming Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida. Doug Jones of Alabama wasn’t in the Senate yet. If the 47 vote as they did in June, and if four of these six Democrats vote against the war, then the resolution will pass, even if no more Republicans voted for it than the four Republicans who voted against the war in June.

In other words, without Paul, supporters would need to pick up five more senators than the June 2017 vote—and there are plenty of options available to do that. With Paul, they would need only four pickups to hit 51 votes and success. On the Republican side, there is ripe opportunity for pickup. Many senators don’t even know the issue well, or at all, and when confronted about it—as well as when confronted with the deeply unpopular nature of illegal unauthorized U.S. wars—may come around from the previous vote last year. Red state Democrats up for re-election this year like Indiana’s Donnelly, Missouri’s McCaskill, West Virginia’s Manchin, and Florida’s Nelson may break for this resolution too in order to avoid the wrath of voters in states that President Trump won in the 2016 general election with a message focused in part on ending pointless wars.

Fein, who served as associate deputy attorney general in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, joined Breitbart News Sunday in studio on SiriusXM Patriot Channel 125 to detail how significant this coalition is to success on this resolution—and previewed how it may lead to even more success down the road on other matters like Syria. In other words, if this coalition is successful this time around, it could lead to many more successes down the road–and a new, populist, anti-establishment way of doing business in Washington on all sorts of matters that cut around establishment old-timers like McConnell and others, going right to the membership of both parties.

“It is encouraging and it shows that we can come together,” Fein said. “You’re never going to have a perfect world. But, Saudi Arabia is going to come and they’re going to have billions of dollars and they’re going to say we’re going to drop food baskets and it’ll be like the Berlin airlift and we’ll drop candy to the Yemenis. I don’t care whether Saudi Arabia gives one penny. We have not under our dispensation authorized the president to be doing what he’s doing. He needs to stop, because the precedent—and we need to get out not just of Yemen, but why are we in Syria? There’s no authorization to be in Syria. Somalia? Niger? Libya? There isn’t any authorization. We need to get out of there right now and if the president can show that we have national security interests to be there then he needs to convince members of Congress. And that’s not a hard battle. Look, he has a majority in the House and Senate—he’s not confronting a Democratic majority in the House or Senate. So if he has good reasons, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to persuade Congress to act. I don’t believe there is, but maybe he’s got some kind of information that’s convincing that we don’t know about. But that’s how our system works, and it’s the procedure that marks us as different from other countries.”

LISTEN TO BRUCE FEIN ON BREITBART NEWS SUNDAY: 

.