WASHINGTON ― A group of House Democrats is preparing a new bid to force the Trump administration and U.S. partners Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to rein in a devastating military campaign that has caused thousands of deaths in Yemen.
The lawmakers are crafting what’s called a privileged resolution ― a bill that must be acted on within a set number of days and cannot be allowed to quietly die as much flashy proposed legislation does. The effort is led by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and includes ranking members on two powerful House committees, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) of the House Armed Services Committee and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) of the House Rules Committee. Joining them are Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
A public announcement of their plan, released Thursday morning after it was first reported in HuffPost, specifically references an Aug. 9 airstrike the Saudi-UAE coalition carried out with an American-made bomb that killed 40 children in an incident that brought rare sustained global attention to the war. The United States has since 2015 provided the Saudis and Emiratis with weapons, aerial refueling, intelligence and diplomatic backing as they have fought a rebel Yemeni militia called the Houthis that has received Iranian support and committed widespread human rights abuses of its own.
“The people of Yemen face the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe where 22 million people require humanitarian assistance and almost 18 million lack access to food,” Rep. Khanna said in the Thursday statement. “It’s critical that the United States not choose sides in this war, and any American involvement can and must be debated transparently.”
The congressional play is a long shot. Opponents of the measure, particularly House Republican leadership, could argue it does not deserve “privileged” status, as they did when Khanna, Pocan and two GOP members introduced a similar bill last fall. Back then, they removed the privilege and crafted a replacement compromise bill after negotiations with the proposal’s backers, who felt discouraged but noted they at least forced the House to acknowledge U.S. culpability in the devastating conflict. The war went on, and months later a similar high-profile attempt to end the U.S. role in the war narrowly failed in the Senate.
Now, some lawmakers and experts believe renewed public pressure has a shot at encouraging peace even if it does not ultimately force an up-or-down vote on the policy. The United Nations on Friday hopes to convene the first talks between the warring sides in two years and the Trump administration faces a congressionally-mandated Sept. 12 deadline to certify that the Saudis, Emiratis and allied Yemenis deserve American support because they are truly trying to end the fighting.
“Hopefully this will send a message to those parties involved in those negotiations that Congress is watching,” a House aide said. The aide noted that the bill has more prominent supporters than last year’s privileged resolution. That proposal eventually gained 53 co-sponsors.
Even as U.S. officials have said assistance to the coalition is essential to ensure it follows international law, attacks like the high-profile strike last month have added to widespread Washington skepticism about that years-old argument.
“For a lot of people, the [August] strike was the last straw,” the aide continued.
On Wednesday, Oxfam reported that August had been the deadliest month in 2018 for civilians in Yemen. Close to 1,000 were killed or injured, one-third of them children, the aid group announced in a statement.
Humanitarian organizations and national security analysts have for years said it’s clear Washington has crucial leverage over what has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“The bloodshed has to end and the U.S. can help stop it by ending refueling, arms sales, and any other military support for the coalition in Yemen,” Oxfam America President Abby Maxman said.