Senate Votes Down Yemen Resolution

By Molly E. Reynolds, Scott R. Anderson
Tuesday, March 20, 2018, 7:18 PM

Earlier this evening, the U.S. Senate voted to table the motion to discharge S.J. Res. 54, the joint resolution seeking to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, making it unlikely that the joint resolution will see further action.

As we wrote earlier this month, the special procedures that apply to S.J. Res. 54 made it possible for its proponents to force at least one Senate vote related to the measure. The original motion that started the debate earlier today was a motion to discharge the joint resolution out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and on to the floor of the Senate by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I.-Vt.); in the end, however, the vote occurred on a motion to table the motion to discharge, offered by committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.). While this was a procedural vote several steps removed from the underlying joint resolution, the special procedures nonetheless had their intended effect.

The final vote on the motion to table was 55-44. Five Republican senators—specifically, Sens. Susan Collins (R.-Maine), Steve Daines (R.-Mont.), Mike Lee (R.-Utah), Jerry Moran (R.-Kan.), and Rand Paul (R.-Ky.)—voted against the motion (i.e., to let consideration of the joint resolution continue). Ten Democratic senators—specifically, Sens. Chris Coons (D.-Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D.-Nev.), Joe Donnelly (D.-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D.-N.D.), Doug Jones (D.-Ala.), Joe Manchin (D.-W.Va.), Bob Menendez (D.-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D.-Fla.), Jack Reed (D.-R.I.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D.-R.I.)—voted in favor. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) did not participate. As the motion to table succeeded, the joint resolution remains consigned to the committee. While committee members who supported the motion to table indicated their intent to continue studying the issue in committee, further meaningful action seems unlikely in the near future.

Critics of U.S. involvement in Yemen may find this outcome disheartening. That said, they should not discount the political impact this vote—which was timed to coincide with a visit to the United States by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely seen as the architect of the Yemen campaign—may yet have. Along with a related resolution that the House of Representatives adopted last year, this vote underscores growing congressional concerns with the Yemen conflict. Further, this vote forced senators to take a public position on the issue, making it easier to hold them politically accountable. If the conflict in Yemen continues to become more unpopular, this may limit Congress’s willingness to continue authorizing and funding U.S. support. This in turn may put pressure on the Trump administration to find ways to reduce U.S. involvement or otherwise address widespread concerns, including the conflict’s devastating humanitarian impact. Indeed, given the likelihood that President Trump would have vetoed the joint resolution even if passed by Congress—and the questions regarding what, if any, legal effect the joint resolution would have even if this did not occur—these political effects seem likely to have been the primary objective of S.J. Res. 54’s sponsors.

Finally, the debate over the joint resolution and related motions also served as a forum for individual senators to voice their views on the respective war powers of Congress and the executive branch, both in relation to the conflict in Yemen and more broadly. For this reason, it may be of particular interest to Lawfare readers. C-SPAN has posted videos of both the morning and afternoon sessions. The following is a clip showing remarks by the joint resolution’s sponsors—Sens. Lee, Chris Murphy (D.-Conn.), and Sanders: