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World

House Votes To End U.S. Support For Saudi-Led War In Yemen

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Congress is demanding that the United States end its participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. For years, the U.S. has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia and shared intelligence. Now the House has followed the Senate in passing a resolution that would end U.S. military support for that war. Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman supported the resolution. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he's with us in our studios.

Thanks so much for coming in.

BRAD SHERMAN: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: The Saudi-led war in Yemen has been going on for the past four years. So why is Congress only acting now?

SHERMAN: Two reasons - one, report after report of terrible bombing mistakes - and makes us wonder whether they were even mistakes - hitting school buses, weddings, etc. But what really did it was Khashoggi - the brutal death of that journalist in the Istanbul consulate.

MARTIN: Jamal Khashoggi, yeah.

SHERMAN: Exactly.

MARTIN: So you say this is about Jamal Khashoggi and disapproval - to use a word - that the United States is too close to Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration in particular.

SHERMAN: There's that. And we should remember that the other side in this civil war is also guilty of war crimes and using food as a weapon. But we're associated with Saudi Arabia, and we bear some moral connection there. But the death of Khashoggi has made us take a look. The administration says that we've responded, but all they've done is take 17 thugs who actually carried out the murder and said they're not allowed to visit Disneyland or get in the United States at all. And that was a very modest response to a brutal murder.

MARTIN: The Trump administration, though, has already scaled back American involvement. They did this late last year when it stopped refueling Saudi planes. So what else would your bill do - achieve?

SHERMAN: Arguably, it simply prevents them going back to refueling the planes or expanding and providing other American military assistance directly to the hostilities. Of course, we expect it to be vetoed, so it's unlikely to ever be tested in the court. It explicitly deals with the refueling, whether it would apply to the sharing of intelligence is problematic.

MARTIN: To pass this resolution, you and your fellow Democrats invoke the 1973 War Powers Act, which was designed back then to be a check on a president's power to commit U.S. troops to war without congressional approval. Republicans in the House say this isn't the right way to go about this. I want to play a clip of the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul. Here he is speaking on the House floor yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL MCCAUL: The fundamental premise of this resolution is flawed because U.S. forces are not engaged in hostilities against the Houthis in Yemen. If we want to cut off economic assistance or logistic assistance to Saudi, there's a way to do that. But I think we're using the wrong vehicle here.

MARTIN: What's your response to that?

SHERMAN: This is a vehicle that was available. The Senate is a place where things can get blocked procedurally unless you use this procedure. And the resolution itself - adopted by both the House and the Senate - defines the refueling under these circumstances as constituting being involved in hostilities. So Congress has dealt with that one issue, which is whether it is, quote, "hostilities" to be refueling a plane that's about to enter a Yemeni airspace.

MARTIN: But you say this resolution wouldn't do anything about the sharing of intelligence. That could still happen. Is that not of concern to you?

SHERMAN: Well, a lot of things are of concern to me. This deals with the refueling. The proponents would say that it also deals with the exchange of information. But the way it's drafted, it's very explicit as to refueling and is deliberately not explicit when it comes to the sharing of information. And it's also a stretch to say that trading information constitutes hostilities - is one step further - one step closer to what McCaul is talking about than saying that refueling a plane that's about to drop a bomb is involvement in hostilities.

MARTIN: McCaul and other Republicans also complain that this ignores Iran's part in the Yemen war. Iran backs the Houthi rebels, who have been targeted by the Saudis. If you withdraw support for the Saudis, are you giving Iran the upper hand in Yemen?

SHERMAN: That's been the argument all along it. It's just the Saudis have gone too far, both in Yemen and with Khashoggi and - of great concern to me - with moving toward a nuclear weapons program.

MARTIN: So you know this is going to get vetoed. You've mentioned that earlier. So what next?

SHERMAN: We'll see what public opinion does. I'm hoping that if we - that we will rein in Saudi Arabia in one respect. And their nuclear weapons program is the next focus we - Senator Rubio and I and others have a bill to try to deal with that.

MARTIN: Congressman Brad Sherman, Democratic congressman who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

SHERMAN: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.