WASHINGTON ― The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill 247-175 to end U.S. support for the bloody Saudi military intervention in Yemen. The vote was a long-awaited victory for a yearslong struggle by lawmakers and activists who took on leaders in both parties and a fresh political challenge to President Donald Trump.
The Senate passed the resolution last month, which means it now represents the first-ever legislation invoking the landmark War Powers Act to make it through both chambers and head to the White House ― a significant win for anti-war advocates across the political spectrum.
Trump will almost certainly veto the bill ― making it only his second veto so far, and an especially controversial one ― so it won’t immediately stop the American intelligence and logistical aid going to the Saudis and their partners in the war. But international negotiators trying to end the conflict and humanitarian groups say pressure from Congress has a big impact on the chances for peace, and the success of the yearslong campaign seems set to inspire further attempts to rein in U.S. militarism for a long time to come, particularly on Capitol Hill.
“Despite the many procedural roadblocks deployed in both chambers to block this resolution, commitment to human rights and congressional responsibility prevailed,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the legislation’s chief sponsor in the House, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of its top backers in the Senate, in a joint statement after the vote. “Finally, the U.S. Congress has reclaimed its constitutional authority over matters of war and peace.”
“This is just the beginning of a national debate over when and where we go to war and Congress’ authority over those interventions,” Sanders wrote on Twitter.
The path to Thursday’s win began in 2015, when Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and other Democrats began raising the alarm about the human cost of President Barack Obama’s decision that year to approve American assistance for the Saudi offensive, which has killed thousands of civilians. Backed by outside human rights groups, lawmakers began trying to force a change by signaling their displeasure in votes over weapons sales to the kingdom, rallying support even among the more hawkish GOP as the death toll kept rising and the Saudis and their ally the United Arab Emirates faced accusations of using torture and forcing millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation.
The idea of using the law to end the policy only became popular in 2017 when Khanna, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sanders and other partners decided to invoke the historic war powers authority. That set up a fight with top Republicans, then in charge of both chambers, and powerful Democrats, who were loath to endorse a dramatic change in how Congress handles its authority over war and sympathetic to the Saudi claim that American support was key to keep Iran out of Yemen.
Though the conflict had already caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the bill’s proponents had significant work to do.
“When I was making the rounds on the Hill in 2017, I heard from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that they didn’t even know there was such a war,” Kate Gould of the peace group Friends Committee for National Legislation wrote in an email to HuffPost.
After two years and challenges from the Pentagon, congressional power players, influential lobbyists and foreign dignitaries, the Yemen bill ultimately won the support of a sizeable chunk of the House and a slim majority of senators.
“Today’s vote is proof positive that slick PR campaigns and K Street lobbyists are no match for an outpouring of grassroots activists determined to end an unconscionable war,” Gould said.