Congress gets a spine and nobody notices because it’s about Yemen

Screenshot from CNN.
Screenshot from CNN.

The legislative branch responded to the 9/11 attacks by ceding vast amounts of power to the executive branch. Congressional oversight has become a sad farce. Donald Trump is an imperial president.

So you would think it would be huge news if members of both parties, in both the House and Senate, joined together in significant numbers to seize one of Congress’s core, constitutional powers back from the president: the power to declare war.

Except that is what is happening pretty much right now, in the context of a brewing Congressional rebellion against U.S. support for the unconscionable Saudi-led bombing campaign that is killing civilians in Yemen.

And almost no one is paying attention. Certainly not the elite political media.

There’s an eerie parallel in the paucity of coverage of the actual war and the U.S. role there – although two particularly horrific attacks using U.S. bombs have gotten some attention recently, see below.

But purely in the context of the Trump presidency, a near-revolt by Congress is an amazing story.

It dates back at least to November of last year, when the House overwhelmingly passed (336 to 30) a resolution stating that Congress had not authorized U.S. military assistance in Yemen.

It was non-binding, nonspecific, and a far cry from the bill that Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) had originally introduced, directing the president to remove U.S. forces from Yemen unless they were specifically hunting terrorists.

But in an era of blissful acquiescence to the president’s whims, it was still an extraordinary sign of revolt. And instead of listless coverage, reporters should have been crawling all over the Hill demanding to know how and why a bipartisan group of House leaders defanged it, and what might have happened if Khanna’s bill had come to a vote.

Fast forward to late February, when Senators Mike Lee (Republican), Bernie Sanders (independent) and Chris Murphy (Democrat) fired off an op-ed demanding a vote on the U.S. role in Yemen. They wrote:

Since 9/11, politicians have become far too comfortable with American military interventions all over the world. It is time for Congress to play its constitutionally mandated oversight role with regard to war.

Trump’s Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sent a letter to Congress warning that the move “could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis.”

And, as CNN reported. “The Trump administration and GOP leaders opposed the move, arguing the limited military support did not require congressional signoff. They also said US involvement in Yemen was needed to counter the threat from Iran.”

In the end, five Republicans supported the bill, but the rest rallied behind leadership. And with the help of 10 Democrats, the Senate tabled it by a vote of 54 to 44.

“Senators Reject Limits on U.S. Support for Saudi-led Fight in Yemen,” said the New York Times headline — which could instead have been about how Sanders and others came up just six votes short of a historic reassertion of Congressional war power in the name of humanitarian disaster.

In August, Murphy, who has championed the issue for three years, tried again to introduced an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would end spending that supports the Saudi bombing.

As Sludge reported, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby blocked Murphy’s amendment in a rider kill-off. But did it ever so kindly:

“The Senator from Connecticut has a worthy amendment and we’re all concerned about what’s going on in Yemen,” said Shelby. “This is something we’re going to have to address and I would like to work with him as would others on both sides of the aisle, because what’s been going on in Yemen is atrocious.”

The Defense authorization did require the administration to certify by September 12 that the Saudi coalition was helping end the war – or stop refueling coalition aircraft.

Trump put his name to a signing statement Congress didn’t have the right to demand such a thing.

But Pompeo ended up issuing a certification anyway. The New York Times headline: “Yemen Civilians Keep Dying, but Pompeo Says Saudis Are Doing Enough”.

Ro Khanna responded on Twitter:

Which brings us to the present day. Khanna and 10 House colleagues have announced their intention to introduce a resolution specifically invoking the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to withdraw U.S. forces from engaging with the Saudi-led coalition if it continues to escalate the conflict.

Such a resolution is considered “privileged” meaning that Khanna could force a vote even if Republican leadership objects.

With that in the works, there ought to be daily coverage by top congressional reporter about what it means, who’s in, who’s out, and why.

(Hint: In These Times reports that “Despite claiming concern over U.S.-backed atrocities in Yemen, some of the most influential Democrats in the U.S. House are refusing to publicly endorse the latest political effort to end the U.S. role in the Saudi-led war.”)

Should that effort fail, look for another one once the Trump administration officially notifies Congress of the next munitions sale to the Saudis.

Kate Gould of the Friends Committee on National Legislation told the Hill that at that point, she thinks there is a “huge opportunity” to get a majority of senators to vote to block the sale.

Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, cheered on the congressional attempts to end U.S. involvement in Yemen last week, on the New York Review of Books website. He wrote:

It is unfortunate that the major media have given so little attention to the battle in Congress, because that is how this war will be ended and potentially millions of lives saved. The omission is not because US journalists are particularly sympathetic to this war. The New York Times editorial board, in a piece headlined “Saudis try to starve Yemen into submission,” effectively accused the US government of complicity in “war crimes.”

But most journalists seem to accept the imperial presidency as a political reality, and do not seem to realize that Congress has constitutional authority over decisions of war and peace and is in the process of reclaiming that authority. The implications of this historic shift would be enormous, as big as the destruction, mass slaughter, and chaos that has been caused by the endless series of wars and US military interventions unleashed since the 9/11 attacks seventeen years ago.

The Yemen story hardly lacks drama or gravitas . In fact, in an extraordinary piece of journalism published today, CNN today heart-breakingly documents the fragments of U.S.-manufactured bombs found at the scene of one attack after another in which civilians died. That included a strike on a wedding in April that killed 21 civilians including 11 children. Watch the video:

CNN had earlier found that the bomb used in a devastating attack on a school bus in Yemen in early August that killed 40 children was a laser-guided MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin, and sold as part of a State Department-sanctioned arms deal. Here’s that video:

On the night of the school-bus bombing, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes had this to say:

If I were to stand here on this broadcast and tell you that a  foreign power had bombed a school bus full of American children, there  would be no bigger story. We would be in a state of panic, horror, and  mourning, and certainly a media war.

In fact, the thought experiment doesn`t even work, because if that had happened, you wouldn`t need me to tell you about it at 8:45, you`d know minutes after it happened.

Well today a foreign power did bomb a school bus full of children, only it was Yemeni children, and the Saudi-led coalition that did that bombing is backed by us, by the United States…..

Now, the horror of this specific attack prompted a howl of outrage from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. He wrote U.S. bombs, U.S. targeting, U.S. midair support and we just bombed a school bus. The Saudi/UAE/U.S. bombing camapign is getting more reckless, killing more civilians, and strengthening terrorists inside Yemen. We need to end this now.

He is right. Our government, our public dollars are paying to kill Yemeni children and it’s our government and our representatives that can stop it.

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