Senators consider adding some bite to the toothless resolution calling for U.S. to end support for Saudi war in Yemen

Defense Secretary James Mattis meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Pentagon in March.

Senators vowing to pass legislation to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen that has “teeth” will need to craft something tougher than the mostly symbolic resolution that is currently headed for a floor vote.

Last week’s procedural vote on S.J. Res 54, introduced in the Senate by Bernie Sanders, represented an extraordinary rebuke of the Trump administration and a rare instance of Congress reasserting constitutional war powers it has mostly ceded to the executive branch.

But the resolution, reflecting language first introduced in the House by California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna over a year ago, is so full of loopholes that its practical effects – even if it became law, presumably over a Trump veto – might be negligible.

The ACLU, in a letter to House members last month actually encouraged a “no” vote, arguing that the resolution “could inadvertently extend and increase fighting in Yemen, rather than end or reduce it.”

One big problem is that the resolution vaguely calls for Trump to remove U.S. forces “from hostilities” in Yemen, rather than forbidding specific activities. ACLU national security project director Hina Shamsi wrote on the ACLU website, that the previous administration twisted the legal meaning of that phrase. “In essence, the Obama administration narrowed the definition of hostilities virtually out of existence where airstrikes are concerned.”

The resolution also carves out an exception for U.S. forces “engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces,” tacitly supporting the administration’s flawed contention that its own deadly raids in Yemen fall under the authorization of military force that Congress passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

What the ACLU recommends is specifics: A resolution that prohibits such things as “refueling of Saudi aircraft, military advice and information, logistics, and other support to the Saudi-led coalition.”

Some top Republicans are now expressing enthusiastic support for cutting further military support for Saudi Arabia. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told CNN yesterday that the plan that emerges will “have teeth.”

But having Republicans involved in the drafting of new language is a double-edged sword.

Outrage is clearly growing on both sides of the aisle at Trump’s attempts to ignore the apparently overwhelming evidence that Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the ambush slaying and dismemberment of U.S.-based dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But the new legislation could also end up even weaker than the current resolution. South Carolina Republican Senator Linsday Graham, despite his defiant talk, has introduced a draft “Sense of the Senate” resolution that would have exactly zero practical significance.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been trying to end U.S. support for the war for three years, told Roll Call he is concerned that Republicans will try to “water this down.”

Does Murphy himself have any desire to toughen it up, instead? His office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

See previous coverage of U.S. support for Yemen:

How to get an up-or-down vote on U.S. involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen

What shared elements of Trump foreign policy are former Obama officials now willing to renounce?

Trump justifies his embrace of Saudi leader by endorsing the bloody U.S.-supported war in Yemen

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

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