The House voted on Wednesday afternoon to end the U.S. contribution to the Yemen war—but what passed the House was still something of a debacle for the anti-war caucus.
“It’s a mess,” said Christopher Anders, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been pushing measures to ensure Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-CA) resolution really did get the U.S. out of the Saudi-led coalition devastating Yemen.
With the backing of the House Democratic leadership—a big shift since early 2018, when Khanna and his anti-war faction were voices in the wilderness—Khanna’s resolution passed on a 248-177 margin. That means the House has now for the first time said that activities like midair refueling and the provision of intelligence, including for targeting purposes, to an ally’s war qualify under the 1973 War Powers Resolution as hostilities that Congress must authorize.
But then come all the caveats—caveats that call into question whether the resolution will actually stop U.S. involvement in one of the planet’s most urgent humanitarian catastrophes.
Fifty-seven House Democrats joined with Republicans to pass an amendment authored by Ken Buck (R-CO) that permits “the sharing of intelligence between the United States and any foreign country if the President determines that such sharing is appropriate.” It specifies that nothing in Khanna’s amendment prohibits “any intelligence” activities—which the anti-war side sees as a major carveout that will permit the U.S. military to continue giving the Saudis and Emiratis intelligence for selecting targets in Yemen to bomb.
“It showcases how too many Democrats are willing, at a time of the most erratic and deceitful administration, to cede constitutional war authorities over the use of an activity clearly...designating which targets to hit in a conflict not authorized by Congress,” said a House Democratic aide associated with the resolution.
Buck’s amendment passed 252-177. Earlier on Wednesday, Democratic staffers on the anti-war side confidently predicted the resolution would be easily defeated.
The other aspect of the debacle concerns a vote that didn’t happen.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) was supposed to offer an amendment that would have clarified that the resolution was about ending U.S. support to hostilities “directed at Houthi forces,” rather than a separate U.S. counterterrorism campaign in Yemen against al-Qaeda’s local affiliate. At the same time, in response to concerns from the ACLU that the Khanna amendment might be read by administration lawyers as a kind of backdoor congressional expansion of the war on terrorism, the amendment specified that “nothing in this section may be construed to limit, expand, or otherwise modify the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force” from 2001.
But the amendment never made it to a vote. At the last minute, legislators feared that it would jeopardize passage in either the House or the Senate, where the resolution must (again) pass—this time, in a chamber that’s become more Republican and against a veto threat from President Trump.
“While we think the amendment would have strengthened the resolution, after some thoughtful conversations, we believe the best course of action is to send [the resolution] to the Senate with as few changes as possible from what they have already passed,” said McGovern spokesperson Jeff Gohringer.
Opponents of the Yemen war still consider passage of the resolution a victory. Yes, they say, the Pentagon unilaterally stopped mid-air refueling of Saudi warplanes over Yemen last year, in response to congressional anger at Saudi Arabia over the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But now the House is on record opposing such activity, and setting the precedent that such security assistance to an ally’s war, like refueling, counts as warfighting that Congress must authorize. That’s a “monumental shift,” the House aide said.
But the anti-war side conceded that they have to clean up the resolution in the Senate if it’s actually going to put an end to U.S. complicity in the Yemen war.
“At the end of the day, the way the administration will read this is they’ll say it won’t change anything they’re doing right now,” said the ACLU’s Anders. “It’ll give them greater leeway to share intelligence information with the Saudi government.”