The Senate passed a resolution on Wednesday that challenges the constitutionality of U.S. involvement in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, but not really because of the Constitution.
The Senate on Wednesday advanced a resolution that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen that human rights advocates say is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.
The procedural vote was 63-37, a rebuke to Saudi Arabia and President Trump’s administration, which has issued a veto threat. Late Wednesday, the Senate agreed to postpone any further action on the resolution until next week.
The measure didn’t come out of thin air. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have been working on this behind the scenes for months on the grounds that Congress should be doing its constitutionally mandated job of overseeing military action.
“Over the past century, Congress’s power to declare war has been willfully eroded,” Lee said upon introducing the resolution back in February. “Successive presidents have claimed that power — and the politicians in Congress have been only too happy to give it away, in order to avoid tough votes. This resolution is a first step toward Congress re-asserting its power over foreign policy decision-making.
When it came up in the chamber earlier this year, it failed.
So the question is, did this pass because a large group of senators suddenly had a change of heart about the constitutionality of America’s involvement in Yemen at some point over the past eight months? Hardly. This passed because of the murder of an Islamist-sympathizing writer in Turkey.
The resolution finally moved forward not because of a raised constitutional or practical consciousness on American foreign policy, but because of the public backlash over Jamal Khashoggi’s death at the hands of Saudi operatives — an event that, as Jordan Schachtel explains, isn’t enough to destroy our working relationship with the Saudis over.
Lindsey Graham’s explanation best encapsulates where most of the measure’s newfound support ultimately came from. “I changed my mind because I’m pissed,” Graham said on Wednesday. “The way the administration had handled the Saudi Arabia event is just not acceptable.”
We need to take a hard look at how, why, where, and for whom we send our military into harm’s way. The fact that we continue to lose our nation’s elite fighters in places like Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa on a regular basis speaks to that, and having that conversation on the Senate floor would be a good start.
However, those who welcome the Senate’s resolution on constitutional grounds or who would rather see a more restrained approach to the use of military power in American foreign policy would do well keep in mind that this resolution didn’t pass for the reasons it was introduced.