WASHINGTON ― Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) spent much of 2017 urging greater accountability for the American role in the civil war in Yemen ― presenting himself as one of few GOP critics of the Trump administration’s policies and aligning with prominent critics of U.S.-backed Saudi-United Arab Emirates operations in Yemen, like Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and a bevy of national security experts on the left and right.
Now he is trying to undercut the best shot war skeptics have of forcing the U.S. to change course.
On Thursday evening, Senate staff learned that Young and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have filed new legislation in response to a bill unveiled last week by Sens. Murphy, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). (Young’s name is on a draft amendment shared with HuffPost; Shaheen’s role was confirmed by a senior Hill source.) The Sanders-Lee-Murphy bill would force a Senate vote on whether to end U.S. support for the Saudi-UAE coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. It’s unprecedented by design, guaranteed to come to the floor because it invokes the War Powers Resolution and the Arms Export Control Act and offers a way for Congress to flex foreign policy muscles in a way it hasn’t in decades. It’s also a real challenge to President Donald Trump, who has grown close to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and whose lawyers are selling Congress a generous view of presidential authority over American military action abroad.
The Young-Shaheen amendment is less ambitious. It requires the secretary of state to certify to key congressional committees within 30 days that the Saudis are investing in diplomacy to end the Yemen conflict and increasing humanitarian access to the more than 20 million Yemenis who need some kind of help. The secretary would have to submit similar certifications two further times: one month later, and eight months after that. If such certifications cannot be provided, the bill says the U.S. must end the aerial refueling the Saudi-UAE coalition relies on for bombing runs ― though it says American help can flow to that coalition if it is targeting Yemen’s Al Qaeda and Islamic State branches or Iranian activity, raising the specter of an outright U.S.-funded proxy battle with the Islamic Republic.
That proposal would effectively greenlight continued Saudi-UAE operations for months at the very least.
It’s a striking move by a man who just six months ago told HuffPost, “The actions of the Saudis in Yemen undercut our national security interests and our moral values — exacerbating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.”
The worry among supporters of the Sanders-Lee-Murphy bill is that Senate leaders will encourage both pieces of legislation to be considered in short succession. That would allow lawmakers to appear to be acting on the Yemen crisis while avoiding an ambitious vote that would represent a rare congressional check on presidential war-making powers. They feel Young’s requirements would be easy for the Trump administration to meet and unlikely to pressure the Saudis, mostly just incentivizing them to emphasize ties between the rebels and Iran to justify escalation and American assistance.
Spokespeople for Young and Shaheeen did not immediately to HuffPost requests for comment.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.