The Senate strikes back at the Trump Administration passing a resolution requiring the withdrawal of United States troops from Yemen in the next 30 days, making an exception for those fighting ISIS. The measure passed, after failing a prior attempt in March, by a vote of 56-41 motivated by President Trump’s tepid response to the tragic killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The brutal assassination of the U.S.-based journalist occurred at the Saudi embassy in Turkey and was allegedly ordered by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salmon.
While we wait to see if the House will approve the measure, which will not happen till the next session, we can marinate on the importance of this move to the long-running Congressional policy of political surrender. Congress has the power, according to the War Powers Act of 1973, to remove troops from foreign theaters of conflict when those troops haven’t been deployed due to a Congressional Declaration of War.
Honestly, the War Powers Act is unnecessary as Congress has the Constitutional authority of war declaration, not the President. However, Congress often opts to delegate its authority to the President rather than take the responsibility that comes with exercising it. Why? Winning elections is harder to do when you are being held accountable for screwing up a difficult and unpopular decision. Why not just allow Presidents, who typically are more narcissistic and willing to stand alone, to endure that hostility while Congress hides in the bunker.
The Senate’s move raises three intriguing questions concerning the balance of power in Washington. Perhaps Congress is ready to re-assert its equal role in war powers. Congress has been gun-shy since getting burned in the second Iraq War under President George W Bush and has abdicated its role as a check on executive power when it comes military decisions.
First question: Does this move signal the end of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in its proxy war with Iran in Yemen?
This catastrophic conflict has left tens of thousands of dead and the region reeling with disease and on the brink of famine. In other words, as with most of our international interventions, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding with dire consequences for the region that will require more resources to salve. Most of our citizens are unaware of the ongoing human tragedy in Yemen. Maybe this moves helps us become more aware so that public sentiment can turn enough to get us out of this conflict.
Second question: Will Congress finally exhibit the imperative backbone to stand up to the President when it comes to how our military is used globally?
Our Constitution didn’t leave Congress powerless in matters of international conflict, but Congress has surrendered that authority and allowed the unbalance in D.C. that has led to an endless state of military conflict. Whether it was President Bush’s interventions that left a power vacuum in Iraq that led to ISIS or President Barack Obama drone-bombing weddings, Congress has sat on the sidelines in refusal to check this unmitigated war power that is a major contributor to our growing national debt. Most polls show Congressional approval around 10% and Congress exhibits minimal desire to chance that elevated standing with the voters. Especially when action could re-engage on military issues that could wind up unpopular or even wrong.
I believe that we’re witnessing is a limited political shot across the bow on the Saudi issue. President Trump’s style of governance has in many cases divested Congress of any say on matters of international importance. Many members of Congress, including some on the Republican side, have called for sanctions against Saudi Arabia. President Trump is opposing them, citing a pending weapons deal as the basis for his refusal to punish the Kingdom for Kashoggi’s murder.
This isn’t the first time that President Trump has been obstinate in the face of Congressional sanctions. Following the revelations concerning Russian tampering in the 2016 Election, Congress imposed sanctions on Russia. President Trump dragged his feet and refused to impose them in the timing and manner that many in Congress wanted. The Senate appears to have decided to use this issue as a rebuke of President Trump and a warning that he needs to stop ignoring Congressional opinion when it comes to international sanctions.
Third question: Will Congressional Republicans see this as an initial salvo in their effort to rescue the GOP from the hands of President Trump and his base?
Many in the GOP still see President Trump as an interloper and temporary threat to the future of the party. Several retired from the body rather than run again in the Trump-era in 2018. As of this point, they’ve been practically impotent in exerting any power against Trumpian policies they oppose. However, will the losses in Congress by the GOP in 2018 begin an erosion of unconditional support for the President among his own party? While I think this is a single-issue battle, some may be galvanized in their resolve to resist backing less popular portions of President Trump’s agenda.
In the next few months, we will watch how this narrative develops. The House will not vote on this measure until the new Congress is seated. With Democrats looking to strike an early blow of power assertion against the President, I believe it will pass. If President Trump vetoes, as he has indicated, Congress will again be left in the same spot it once was in overriding President Richard Nixon’s veto to pass the War Powers Act.
Then we will see if Congressional Republicans have re-discovered the rigidity with which they opposed President Obama and are ready to fight to balance power in DC, or if they will scurry back to their cubbyholes and acquiesce their Constitutional authority to the will of President Trump.
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