Yemen and the War Powers Act

There are two things you never let your children see being made. One is sausage. The other is policy. The House & Senate War Powers Resolutions were complicated as hell so most journalists and politicians are not able to explain half of it.

For the wonkiest of wonks here is some information about the two separate Resolutions invoking the War Power Act to end the U.S. support to the Saudi-lead war reported in the news.

What’s driving this nearly four-year-old war to finally be debated to the actually get votes is the horrific human tolls it’s taking. Everyone by now should have heard that the United Nations is calling 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 2 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. “Some 1.8 million Yemeni children are malnourished, making them more vulnerable to disease, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with 400,000 whose lives are at risk from severe acute malnutrition,” reported Reuters in October.

War Powers Act History

The War Powers Act (also known as the War Powers Resolution) was passed forty-five years ago to reassert Congressional authority to go to war as per Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, stating 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. A veto giving us some insight into the growing Imperial Presidency we saw with George W. Bush in the Afghan and Iraq Wars.

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

What’s so unique and powerful about the War Powers Act is it’s one of the few authorities that given to any individual member of Congress what called “privilege status” to invoked, be heard and voted on as long the Bill is approved by the Parliamentarian and waits 15 days. It doesn’t have to go through a Committee to go straight to the Floor for a vote. The Foreign Affairs committing could even mark it up and be voted on in 3 days.

Why is the U.S. 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. Then we wanted to appease Saudi Arabia to get them to back off for us to do the Iran Deal. The U.S. has been giving military aid, refueling of jets and logistical support. In March of 2106 the New York Times published a piece the “Quiet Support for Saudis Entangles U.S. 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 arm 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?

1) Control the trade routes of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the port of Hodeihad in Yemen.

2) Sell weapons to 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) Support our oil allied countries Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emiratis, and Kuwait.

5) Stop any none allied power running Yemen.

6) Politicians get money from military contractors, Saudi lobbyists to support war.

7) Have greater U.S. Military presence in the Middle East

Senate and House War Power Act Resolution Bills

The Bill heavily debated this past month in the Senate were sponsored by Senators Sanders, Murphy and Lee and attempted the first time on March 18, 2018 that got tabled then. The Senate’s version is a Joint Resolution number 54 (referred to SJRes54) and passed the Senate 56-41 on March 13, 2018. The type of Bill was a ‘Joint Resolution’ which means that that has the power to be 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 are not submitted into law. Unfortunately, House Republican leadership stripped it of its ‘privilege’ status which grants precedence of ordinary business and not needing 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 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.

Last Tuesday night the Rules Committee approved this rule and passed by 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 SJ Res 54, the legislation now goes to the House this week. Speaker Ryan could still bring it up for a vote, but he is expected to block it, just as he has repeatedly blocked war and peace legislation throughout the last year. That means S.J. Res. 54 will die by the end of the year, and in order to pass both chambers of Congress and be enacted into law, the legislation will have to be reintroduced next year, and voted on in the House and the Senate.

Representatives Ro Khanna’s Yemen war powers legislation has repeatedly been blocked by the House leadership, and for this legislation to be enacted, we need to pass it in both houses of Congress. We have the votes in the House and Senate but we have to put pressure on the House Democratic Leadership to allow a vote on the floor in early January. One Senator can force a vote but in the House, leadership can stop these votes and have in the past.

It’s almost impossible to find Journalist or Congresspersons who would have known how hard it is to make anything like this happen to keep pressure on the President and Defense Department for a passage of a Bill to save thousands of lives a 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 U.S. to go after Al Qaeda in Yemen here are a couple of points to consider:

It’s called a carve -out not a ‘loophole’ and carve-outs simply mean that when it comes to ending US military involvement in Yemen, the drone wars are simply not covered by this legislation. It doesn’t authorize any U.S. military activity in Yemen, it simply limits it.

So yes, we still need additional legislation to stop bomb sales to the Saudis and stop the drone wars, but this is legislation, if enacted, would stop all direct U.S. support for the war, including refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft, logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led coalition.

I find this to be an important take away. If you remember Bernie and Ro Khanna had a while ago introduced bills to force Companies with employees that were on Social Services like Food Stamps to pay more in taxes to cover the Government for subsidizing Amazon’s employees and other Companies. The politicians knew they wouldn’t get the votes needed but the threat of the bills got Amazon and other Corporations to increase their wages to employees. It was called the Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOs) Act. This is a great example of how pressure in the face of challenges are effective to 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 a lot of pressure on the success of the Peace Talks and will mitigate future aggressions.

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