White House issues veto threat ahead of Yemen vote

March 13, 2019 - 11:23 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has issued a veto threat ahead of a Senate vote Wednesday on ending U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The measure is co-sponsored by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. If it were to pass Congress, it would be the first time lawmakers have invoked the decades-old War Powers Resolution to halt American military involvement in a foreign conflict. It would also be another strong rebuke of President Donald Trump's support for Saudi Arabia, which has been a point of tension with Congress since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

In its statement threatening a veto, the White House argued the U.S. support for the Saudis does not constitute engaging in "hostilities" and said the resolution is flawed and could undermine the fight against extremism. The Yemen resolution "seeks to override the President's determination as Commander in Chief," the statement said, and "would harm bilateral relationships in the region."

"By defining 'hostilities' to include defense cooperation such as aerial refueling," the statement said, the Yemen resolution could also "establish bad precedent for future legislation."

Speaking from the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged his colleagues to oppose the measure, calling it "inappropriate and counterproductive." He said concerns about the war are understandable, but passing the resolution "will not enhance America's diplomatic leverage" and will make it more difficult for the U.S. to end the conflict in Yemen and minimize civilian casualties.

"We should not use this specific vote on a specific policy decision as some proxy for all the Senate's broad feelings about foreign affairs. Concerns about Saudi human rights issues should be directly addressed with the administration and with Saudi officials," McConnell said.

A similar resolution to end support for the Yemen war passed the Senate in December, but it was not taken up under the then Republican-controlled House. If the Lee and Sanders resolution passes the Senate, it will have to go back to the House for approval before reaching Trump's desk.

Approaching its fifth year, the war in Yemen has killed thousands and left thousands more on the brink of starvation, creating what the United Nations called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"This war is both a humanitarian and a strategic disaster, and Congress has the opportunity to end it," Sanders in a statement ahead of the vote. "For the first time in 45 years, Congress must exercise its power under the War Powers Resolution and remove the U.S. from this war in Yemen."

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