Bernie Sanders And Mike Lee Want A Fight With The Saudis. Trump’s Working To Stop Them.https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-yemen-bernie-sanders-mike-lee_us_5a9719d0e4b07dffeb6f564b?ncid=edlinkushpmg00000313
Sanders, Lee push for end to US involvement in Yemen warhttp://thehill.com/policy/defense/376157-sanders-lee-push-for-end-to-us-involvement-in-yemen-war
WASHINGTON ― The Trump administration and GOP leadership started lobbying against a bipartisan resolution questioning the U.S. role in the civil war in Yemen before Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) even filed it on Wednesday morning.
The Defense Department’s acting general counsel sent Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a letter criticizing the resolution on Tuesday. That letter was sent to all Senate offices Wednesday morning, hours before a high-profile news conference at which Sanders and Lee argued that current American efforts in Yemen ― providing aerial refueling and intelligence to a Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels ― are unconstitutional because Congress has never explicitly approved them.
William S. Castle of the Pentagon disagrees. His letter maintains that the U.S. support does not count as “hostilities” because American forces are not having exchanges of fire with the rebels, known as the Houthis, or commanding the coalition. It also suggests that the resolution threatens American authority to combat the local branch of the Islamic State ― and even holds that Congress cannot end the policy because it is the president’s prerogative, adopting an expansive view of presidential control over war-making that some experts likened to controversial George W. Bush-era arguments once HuffPost published the letter.
At stake is a debate ― the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the Senate for decades ― over how America wages war.
The resolution from Sanders, Lee and Murphy is guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor because of authorities outlined in arms control legislation, staffers say; the U.S. is a major supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia and its chief partner in the war, the United Arab Emirates.
While all three senators have been top critics of the deadly effects of the U.S. support for the Saudi-UAE coalition, including food shortages for close to 20 million people and the deaths of thousands of civilians, they want the ensuing debate to focus on the constitutional question of whether the president should have been allowed to initiate such a policy rather than the wisdom of the strategy itself, staffers told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.
“We believe that, as Congress has not declared war or authorized military force in this conflict, the United States’ involvement in Yemen is unconstitutional and unauthorized, and U.S. military support of the Saudi coalition must end,” Sanders said Wednesday. Lee said the resolution will allow Congress to reassert its authority over foreign policy by voting on whether to withdraw American forces currently aiding the coalition. (The bill specifically excludes U.S. forces fighting Yemen’s al Qaeda branch.)
Their resolution invokes the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which states that the U.S. is involved in a conflict if it is helping to command or even just “participate in the movement of” another country’s forces as they fight. While the Pentagon letter says that resolution does not apply because U.S. forces are not engaged in such activities against the Houthis, it also notes that American planes currently provide refueling to the Saudi and UAE planes that go on to bomb Houthi-controlled areas.
This week is just the start of the battle over the resolution. A House version prompted complicated weeks-long negotiations last year, failing to produce a vote but forcing the House to officially acknowledge that the policy was not covered by authorizations for the use of military force passed after 9/11.
Saudi Arabia has already begun expanded outreach to lawmakers because of the wave of criticism it has received over Yemen, sending them weekly updates on its humanitarian work for the victims of the conflict that experts and aid groups say it is deliberately worsening. One set arrived in Capitol Hill inboxes around the same time as the Pentagon letter.
And it’s already clear the Trump administration, which has developed a close relationship with Riyadh, will be working against the proposal, too. The senators involved have been in touch with the executive branch, staffers said Tuesday; they did not comment on how those conversations went.
If all goes according to plan, the resolution will move out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by early March and can then be called up at any time for a debate and a vote. That means there’s a chance it could even come up on or around March 19, when the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, arrives in Washington for meetings at the start of a U.S. tour that could last close to two weeks.
Its supporters are already rallying their allies for a fight they say could be monumental. Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo tweeted in support of the resolution on Wednesday, and national security experts are already praising it.
“There is a reason why the Founders gave the power to declare war to the Congress, the body closest to the people, to decide when and where our military will fight,” said retired Gen. Paul Eaton of the Vet Voice Foundation in a statement shared with HuffPost. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to our worldwide interventions without clear authorization.... If the President or members of Congress believe that support for the Yemen War is in the U.S. interests, they should argue for it. They had best be articulate because many of our citizens see no plausible explanation for why backing the Saudis is helpful in a region saturated by violence.”
Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday pushed the White House to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen’s civil war, arguing it’s unconstitutional that Congress has not had a say in entering the conflict.
The two lawmakers, along with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), earlier in the day filed a joint resolution questioning U.S. support to a Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in the country.
Sanders and Lee later in a press conference argued that the American intervention — which includes selling the Saudis weapons, providing limited intelligence and helping with air refueling — has never specifically been approved by Congress.
The lawmakers hope to invoked the War Powers Resolution, a federal law intended to check the president’s power to commit the country to armed conflict without Congress’s consent.
“If the president or members of Congress believe that support for this war is in U.S. interests and that we should be involved in it, then let them come before Congress, let them make their case and let the Congress vote on whether or not we stay in that war,” Sanders said.
Lee argued the legislation “is neither liberal nor conservative.”
“This is an American principle. ... It’s constitutional.”
Civil war has overtaken Yemen since early 2015 when Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sanaa and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to the southern city of Aden.
Saudi Arabia, concerned about Iran’s support of the Houthis in a neighboring country, formed a coalition and intervened in support of Hadi.
In response, the U.S. has provided support for the Saudi campaign.
“If you look at the War Powers Act, what America is currently involved in constitutes a military action,” Sanders said.
The U.S. support in Yemen ties into a larger argument on the Trump administration’s continued use of a 2001 authorization for use of military force (AUMF), passed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks to justify a range of military actions.
Several lawmakers want the language revoked for a more tailored war authorization bill, arguing the current AUMF has reached far beyond what it was meant to allow.