Yemen Resolution Exacerbates the Divide Between Congress and Trump on Saudi Arabia

Written by: Simon Fischer

On April 4, Congress officially voted to pass a resolution to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, a notable reversal on established Middle East foreign policy and a direct reprimand of Donald Trump’s outspoken support for the Saudis and divisive ruler Mohammad Bin Salman. The resolution widens the pronounced chasm between the legislative and executive branches’ policy opinions on Saudi Arabia. The resolution was a product of rare bipartisan collaboration and got just enough support to push through in spite of Republicans attempting to block the vote. Lawmakers from both sides have spoken out against U.S. support for the war, but the White House has said that Trump plans to veto the resolution. This sets the stage for another battle between the two branches on an important and prominent foreign policy issue.

On the legislative side, both the House and the Senate have made it clear they are against the war. There was an attempt last year in the Republican-controlled House under Paul Ryan to vote on the resolution after it was already passed in the Senate, but it stalled because House Republicans outright blocked a vote on the measure. Under Democratic leadership, however, the House made another strong push to pass the resolution. And now, even in the face of representatives attempting to foil the bipartisan efforts of both chambers, it has passed through both the House and the Senate. Even this go-around was tricky: Republicans tried to attach a last-minute amendment condemning anti-semitism in hopes of dividing Democrats on their support for Israel. However, Democrats anticipated the move, which lead sponsor of the resolution Ro Khanna (D-CA) called a “a divisive tactic of anti-Semitism to block an effort to save lives,” and the resolution passed anyway. With the threat of a Trump veto looming, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers also wrote a letter to the President urging him to not veto the measure. In the current climate in Washington where lawmakers from opposing sides cannot seem to agree on anything, this show of unity cannot be taken lightly. The facts show that the Yemen War has been catastrophic and deadly, and Congress is making sure the President knows that they disagree with continued U.S. involvement.

On the other side of this debate is the executive branch with President Trump and the White House. They have been a lone but powerful beacon of support for a war and a country that is not exactly popular outside the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania. Trump has repeatedly emphasized his support for ruler Mohammad Bin Salman and Saudi Arabia, and has called Bin Salman an ally. He was adamant in his support even in spite of  Jamal Khashoggi’s orchestrated murder and an overall campaign by the country to stamp out dissenters by whatever means necessary. It was even reported recently that the US secretly approved six authorizations to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to the Saudis, which could further increase tensions of a nuclear war in the Middle East. The administration as a whole has been receptive to Saudi lobbying efforts, and it seems like Trump sees MBS as a kindred spirit as a leader, and these notions are reflected in their stated policy regarding Saudi Arabia.

With a veto likely coming on the resolution, what will happen next is unclear. Congress could potentially override the veto with enough support but if not, the resolution will fall by the wayside and US support for the Yemen War will continue for the foreseeable future.