The effort to pass a joint resolution through Congress aiming to curb the president’s war powers and end U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s proxy war with Iran in Yemen—a war which has resulted in more than 80,000 deaths from violence and caused widespread famine rising to the level of a humanitarian crisis, and in which American weapons have been used to slaughter children—has been long and complex. As Walker Bragman outlined in Paste back in February, an original version of the bill passed the GOP-controlled Senate in December 2018, but died in Paul Ryan’s Republican House. With the midterm elections and the rise of the Democrats in the House, the resolution had new life, but when Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders re-introduced the resolution, House Democrats joined with Republicans to add an amendment “enshrining President Trump’s authority to continue intelligence sharing operations with allies he deems appropriate with no check from Congress.”
Then House Republicans pulled a clever move, adding an amendment condemning anti-Semitism (after the latest manufactured Ilhan Omar “scandal”) which Democrats voted for unanimously after a brief scramble, and which then allowed Mitch McConnell to block a vote in the Senate because the amendment wasn’t “germane.”
Nevertheless, Bernie Sanders persisted, and in March he forced the Senate to vote on a clean version of the Yemen War Powers Resolution, co-sponsored by Republican Mike Lee. It is increasingly rare to see any kind of bipartisan effort pass a divided congressional chamber, but in this case, a handful of Republicans crossed the aisle to pass the resolution 54-46.
“We have been providing the bombs that the Saudi-led coalition is using, we have been refueling their planes before they drop those bombs, and we have been assisting with intelligence,” Sanders said, in a speech before the vote. “In too many cases our weapons are being used to kill civilians. In August it was an American-made bomb that obliterated a school bus full of young boys, killing dozens and wounding many more.”
Two weeks later in the House, 16 Republicans crossed the aisle to help Democrats pass the resolution 247-175.
The passage of the resolution was as much about re-establishing congressional control of war in America as it was about Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and even in the specifics, many congresspeople objected more to Trump’s relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman—and his mishandling of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—then they did about the war in Yemen.
Trump, as he’d been threatening to do throughout the process, vetoed the resolution last Tuesday—”This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities.” Now, Bernie Sanders is calling for an override, which would require a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House. He wrote:
For far too long Congress, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has abdicated its Constitutional role with regard to the authorization of war. The historic passage of this resolution, the first time since the 1973 War Powers Resolution was passed that it has been successfully used to withdraw the United States from an unauthorized war, was a long overdue step by Congress to reassert that authority.
The Congress must now act to protect that constitutional responsibility by overriding the president’s veto.
It is deeply unlikely that Sanders will generate the support he needs, and the journey of this particular resolution will likely end with the veto, though it also seems like the Senate will have to vote on the override itself, barring more legislative sleight-of-hand from McConnell. Based on the fact that only 54 senators voted for the resolution in the first place, the chances of 66 supporting a veto override are almost nil, which means the House won’t hold its own override vote.
Even with the ultimate failure of the resolution, the fact that it passed a Republican-controlled Senate represents significant progress in the fight against executive power, and bodes well for future limits on presidential authority that have been expanding at a rapid rate for the past two decades, and especially under Obama and Trump.