Here Are the “Progressives” Who Watered Down the House Measure Ending Support for the Yemen War

A little-noticed amendment allows for continued U.S. intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia, undermining the push to halt all U.S. participation in the war.

Sarah Lazare and Michael Arria February 14, 2019

Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., speaks during the House Democrats' news conference on the NATO Support Act before its consideration on the House floor on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Wednesday’s over­whelm­ing U.S. House vote (248177) in favor of a War Pow­ers res­o­lu­tion to end U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Sau­di-led war on Yemen was no doubt a win for peace activists. But the vic­to­ry was par­tial­ly under­cut by a lit­tle-noticed amend­ment intro­duced by Rep. Ken Buck (R‑Colo.) — passed with sup­port from 57 Democ­rats — that allows for con­tin­ued U.S. intel­li­gence shar­ing with Sau­di Arabia.

"This could undermine the intent of the bill to protect Yemeni civilians from U.S.-assisted Saudi bombing."

Remark­ably, 13 mem­bers of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus (CPC), vot­ed to sup­port the amend­ment, a posi­tion to the right of the hawk­ish Demo­c­ra­t­ic Reps. Eliot Engel (N.Y.) and Ste­ny Hoy­er (Md.). They are:

  • Katie Porter (Calif.)
  • Gil Cis­neros (Calif.)
  • Max­ine Waters (Calif.)
  • Ang­ie Craig (Minn.)
  • Anto­nio Del­ga­do (N.Y.)
  • Jared Gold­en (Maine)
  • Katie Hill (Calif.)
  • Steven Hors­ford (Nev.)
  • Andy Kim (N.J.)
  • David Loeb­sack (Iowa)
  • Joe Morelle (N.Y.)
  • Jim­my Panet­ta (Calif.)
  • Brad Sher­man (Calif.)

Nine of these rep­re­sen­ta­tives are freshmen.

The Buck Amend­ment states that the Pres­i­dent is able to share intel­li­gence with any for­eign coun­try pro­vid­ed that the Pres­i­dent deter­mines such shar­ing is appro­pri­ate and in the nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests of the Unit­ed States.”

Accord­ing to Robert Naiman, pol­i­cy direc­tor for Just For­eign Pol­i­cy, which has been agi­tat­ing to end the Yemen War, The Buck Amend­ment could be inter­pret­ed by the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion as Con­gres­sion­al per­mis­sion to con­tin­ue shar­ing intel­li­gence with the Sau­di régime that the Sau­di régime uses to car­ry out airstrikes against civil­ian tar­gets in Yemen in areas under the con­trol of Houthi forces. This could under­mine the intent of the bill to pro­tect Yemeni civil­ians from U.S.-assisted Sau­di bomb­ing, and under­mine the Con­sti­tu­tion’s pro­hi­bi­tion against U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in wars that have not been autho­rized by Congress.”

On the House floor, Buck claimed that his amend­ment was need­ed because the shar­ing of intel­li­gence has allowed Sau­di Ara­bia to reduce civil­ian casu­al­ties. I want to make sure that we’re doing every­thing we can to avoid the human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis there, at the same time we rec­og­nize the geopo­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of our rela­tion­ship with Sau­di Ara­bia,” said Buck.

Yet, the Unit­ed States has long been aware of civil­ian casu­al­ties in the war while con­tin­u­ing to sup­port the offen­sive. Accord­ing to a Reuters report in 2016, under the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, State Depart­ment offi­cials pri­vate­ly expressed con­cern that the U.S. gov­ern­ment could be impli­cat­ing itself in war crimes for its par­tic­i­pa­tion in the war. But this con­cern didn’t stop the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion from refu­el­ing the mil­i­tary coalition’s bomber planes, help­ing iden­ti­fy tar­gets and sup­ply­ing arms.

Jehan Hakim, direc­tor of the Yemeni Alliance Com­mit­tee, a group of Yemeni-Amer­i­can orga­niz­ers that ini­tial­ly formed to oppose Trump’s Mus­lim ban, tells In These Times that Buck’s asser­tion is a lie. The res­o­lu­tion with the Buck Amend­ment will con­tin­ue to increase civil­ian casu­al­ties,” she says. It’s been almost four years that we have been sup­port­ing the Sau­di led coali­tion and the rate of civil­ian casu­al­ties con­tin­ues to rise. I think the Amer­i­can peo­ple deserve to know that the Sau­di-led airstrikes that have been backed and sup­port­ed by the Unit­ed States have def­i­nite­ly increased civil­ian casualties.”

The 13 mem­bers of the CPC who vot­ed in favor of the Buck Amend­ment did so despite the fact that the CPC whipped against it, and even Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man who has dis­tin­guished him­self as a lead­ing anti-Rus­sia hawk, told Demo­c­ra­t­ic offices he opposed the res­o­lu­tion. Peace cam­paign­ers say the CPC like­ly swayed these pow­er­ful Democ­rats — but not fresh­man who rode the blue wave” to Congress.

It’s real­ly dis­heart­en­ing to see that even with our new pro­gres­sive Con­gress there was a major­i­ty vote in accept­ing that amend­ment,” says Hakim. It watered down the resolution’s intent to reduce harm on the ground.”

Rep. Ro Khan­na (D‑Calif.) has been fight­ing for two years to pass the res­o­lu­tion, which directs the Pres­i­dent to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hos­til­i­ties in or affect­ing Yemen with­in 30 days unless Con­gress autho­rizes a lat­er with­draw­al date, issues a dec­la­ra­tion of war, or specif­i­cal­ly autho­rizes the use of the Armed Forces.” The res­o­lu­tion, how­ev­er, does not per­tain to mil­i­tary actions sup­pos­ed­ly used to com­bat al-Qaeda.

In addi­tion to the Buck amend­ment, the res­o­lu­tion suf­fered a blow when anoth­er pro­posed change failed to even reach a vote. Rep. Jim McGov­ern (D‑Mass.) was expect­ed to intro­duce an amend­ment that would have strength­ened Khanna’s bill by clear­ly stat­ing that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion must remove Unit­ed States Armed Forces from hos­til­i­ties direct­ed at Houthi forces in or affect­ing the Repub­lic of Yemen.” Ulti­mate­ly, the McGov­ern amend­ment nev­er hit the floor over con­cerns that the mod­i­fied ver­sion of the bill would have a more dif­fi­cult time passing.

Less than two months after Wash­ing­ton Post jour­nal­ist Jamal Khashog­gi was bru­tal­ly killed by the Sau­di gov­ern­ment last Octo­ber, the Sen­ate vot­ed to end mil­i­tary aid to the king­dom, push­ing back against Trump’s broad asser­tion of war pow­ers. Khanna’s bill was blocked that same month by then-House Speak­er Paul Ryan (R‑Wisc.), who added a rid­er to the annu­al farm bill strip­ping Khanna’s bill of the War Pow­ers Act sta­tus it need­ed to move forward.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion claimed on Novem­ber 9 that the Unit­ed States has stopped assist­ing with mid-air refu­el­ing of bomber air­crafts — but has not pro­vid­ed suf­fi­cient pub­lic evi­dence to prove this is the case. Mean­while, Trump claims the author­i­ty to reverse this deci­sion at any time.

The U.S.-Saudi war began in 2015 after Houthi rebels drove out the U.S.-backed gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Abdu Rab­bu Man­sour Hadi. Accord­ing to the Armed Con­flict Loca­tion and Event Data Project (ACLED), the death toll in Yemen has been severe­ly under­stat­ed. While some sources reg­u­lar­ly report a num­ber of 10,000 deaths, ACLED’s data sug­gests the num­ber is some­where between 56,000 and 80,000.

Accord­ing to ACLED, the U.S.-backed Sau­di-led coali­tion car­ried out 3,362 airstrikes in Yemen dur­ing 2018, and 420 of the bomb­ings were car­ried out on res­i­den­tial areas. In August 2018, a coali­tion bomb was dropped on a school bus, killing 54 peo­ple, 44 of them chil­dren. A 2018 Save the Chil­dren report esti­mates that 85,000 chil­dren under the age of 5 have starved to death as a result of the war.

Khanna’s bill will now head back to the Sen­ate to be vot­ed on once again. Last week, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion threat­ened to block the res­o­lu­tion and the Sen­ate vote might lead to the first veto of Trump’s presidency.

We’re call­ing this a win because it’s a War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion,” says Hakim. Yes, it is watered down, but we’re hop­ing the Sen­ate will pass the orig­i­nal res­o­lu­tion with­out the amend­ment. We are going to con­tin­ue to fight this until we are real­ly with­draw­ing support.”

Mar­co Car­tolano con­tributed research to this article.

Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor at In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Inter­cept, The Nation, and Tom Dis­patch. She tweets at @sarahlazareMichael Arria cov­ers labor and social move­ments. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @michaelarria
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