Yemen and the War Powers Act

There are two things you should never let your children see being made: sausage and policy. The House and Senate War Powers Resolutions were complicated to begin with, so most journalists and politicians were not able to explain half of it.

For the wonkiest of wonks, here is some information about the two separate Resolutions invoking the War Powers Act to end U.S. support for the now widely reported Saudi-led war.

What’s driving the debate and vote for US involvement in this four-year-old war, is the horrific human toll it’s taking. The United Nations called the war in Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history. New estimates show more than 60,000 people have been killed in the Yemen war in past two years, according to the UK-based independent research group Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).

Sen. Bernie Sanders has been repeating over and over that 85,000 children have died of starvation. According to Reuters, "Some 1.8 million Yemeni children are malnourished, making them more vulnerable to disease," and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 400,000 lives are at risk from severe acute malnutrition."

War Powers Act History

The War Powers Act (also known as the War Powers Resolution) was passed 45 years ago to reassert Congressional authority to go to war as per Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution that states "Congress alone has the authority to determine whether the United States shall use offensive military force." In 1973, it passed, overriding a veto by President Nixon. That veto giving us some insight into the growing Imperialistic nature of the US Presidency that we saw with George W. Bush in the Afghan and Iraq Wars.

The US Congress hasn’t adhered to the Constitution’s requirement since 1942. Truman ignored it, taking the US into war with North Korea. Similarly, Congress never declared war in Vietnam. President Johnson used the Tonkin Resolutions to use military force. Each President, from Johnson to Trump, has worked most often with Authorization of the Use of Military Force commonly known as AUMFs.

What’s so unique and powerful about the War Powers Act is that it’s one of the few authorities given to any individual member of Congress through what’s called "privilege status." This means it can be invoked, heard and voted on as long as the Bill is approved by the Parliamentarian, followed by a 15-day waiting period. It doesn’t have to go through a Committee to go straight to the floor for a vote. The Foreign Affairs committee could even mark it up and vote on it in three days.

Why is the US in a War with Yemen?

First let’s clarify that we are at war against the Houthis, who overthrew the Saudi-friendly leader, Hadi, on March 23, 2015. We had to appease Saudi Arabia over the Iran Deal. The US has been giving military aid, refueling jets and providing logistical support. In March of 2016 the New York Times published a piece titled "Quiet Support for Saudis Entangles US in Yemen," highlighting that "the Obama administration needed to placate the Saudis to complete the nuclear deal with Iran," by offering support for the war through arms sales and military assistance.

This war with Yemen has never been authorized by Congress.

Why are we supporting the Saudis in a war against Yemen?

For many reasons:

  1. To control the trade routes of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the port of Hudayhad in Yemen.
  2. To sell weapons to the Saudis with a couple hundred billion dollars under Obama and Trump.
  3. As a potential military strategy to a lead up to war with Iran.
  4. To support our oil allied countries Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emiratis, and Kuwait.
  5. To stop any non-allied power running Yemen.
  6. Because politicians get money from military contractors and Saudi lobbyists to support war.
  7. To maintain US Military presence in the Middle East.

Senate and House War Power Act Resolution Bills

The Bill, heavily debated this past month in the Senate, was sponsored by Senators Sanders, Murphy and Lee, and was originally introduced, and tabled, in March 2018. The Senate’s version is a Joint Resolution number 54 (referred to SJRes54) and passed by the Senate 56-41 on December 13, 2018. Joint Resolutions are heard in both the House and Senate and sent to the President and turned into law.

Previously, Rep. Ro Khanna tried to pass companion legislation in the House with a Concurrent Resolution (HConRes138) that addresses the sentiments of both Chambers but is not submitted into law.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, House Republican leadership stripped it of its "privilege" status, which grants precedence over ordinary business and does not require debate. On November 14, 2018, Congresspersons Massie (R), Gabbard (D), Jones (R), and Pocan (D) sent out a bi-partisan letter saying, "Despite our efforts, the Rules committee has inserted language into the rule of H.R. 6784 that would "de-privilege" our resolution and deny us a vote." This Rule was attached to the Wolves Act.

Most recently, Ro Khanna was ready with another Concurrent Resolution (HConRes142) along with 93 co-sponsors by invoking the War Powers Act as "privileged" legislation. Fireworks erupted when Speaker Paul Ryan, on a Tuesday night in November 2018, snuck into the Rules Committee a Resolution that violates the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution. Section 2 of the Resolution 1176 the Rule of the Farm Bill said the provisions of Section 7 of the War Powers Resolution shall not apply during the remainder 115th Congress to any Current Resolution introduced pursuit to the War Powers Resolution.

The Rules Committee approved this rule by a vote of 206–203, stopping any hope of passage of a Yemen war powers resolution in the House by the end of the year.

After the Senate passage of SJRes54, the legislation went to the House. Speaker Ryan could have brought it up for a vote, but he blocked it, just as he has repeatedly blocked war and peace legislation throughout the last year. That means SJRes54 died this year. To pass both chambers of Congress and be enacted into law, the legislation needs to be reintroduced in 2019, and voted on in the House and the Senate.

Representative Ro Khanna’s Yemen war powers legislation has repeatedly been blocked by the House leadership, and for this legislation to be enacted, it needs to pass in both houses of Congress. While one Congressperson can force a vote for the War Power resolution, leadership can block or postpone the vote. The public must put pressure on Speaker-elect Pelosi, Democratic House Whip Hoyer, Rep Engel, and other House leadership to allow a vote on the floor in early January 2019.

It’s almost impossible to find journalists or members of Congress who know how hard it is to make anything like this happen. Congress, journalists and the public need to keep pressure on the President and Defense Department for passage of a Bill to save thousands of lives every month in Yemen.

To those who worried the Resolution had "loopholes" because the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force still allowed for the US to go after Al Qaeda in Yemen, here are a couple of points to consider.

First, the Resolution had a carve-out, not a "loophole." A carve-out means that when it comes to ending US military involvement in Yemen, the drone wars are not covered by this legislation. It doesn’t authorize any US military activity in Yemen, it simply limits it.

Second, yes, additional legislation is needed to stop bomb sales to the Saudis and stop the drone wars, but this legislation, if enacted, would stop all direct US support for the war, including refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft, and logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led coalition.

This is an important take away. Recall that not long ago, Bernie Sanders and Ro Khanna introduced bills to force companies with employees that were on Social Services (like Food Stamps) to pay more in taxes to offset the Government subsidies for these underpaid employees. The politicians knew they would not get the votes needed but the threat of the bills pressured Amazon and other corporations to increase employee wages. It was called the Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOs) Act. This demonstrates that increasing awareness and public pressure can effectively bring solutions to terrible and complicated problems.

Both Bills are expected to come back in January with the new 116th Congress, requiring a new set of votes with the new members, different titles, numbers and another set of compromises and problems, but for now many Yemenis’ and Humanitarian Organizations are very optimistic by the results and believe that this has put immense pressure on the success of the Peace Talks and will mitigate future aggressions.

Call the offices of Nancy Pelosi, Whip Hoyer, and Rep Eliot Engel and tell them you want the new Congress to take up Rep. Ro Khanna War Powers Act Vote to end the war when they come back January 3, 2019. Call (202) 224-3121.

Arn Menconi is was a former Colorado County Commissioner, has run for both US Senate and Congress in Colorado. He is a peace activist and foreign policy analyst. Follow him on Twitter @arnmenconi.