By Scott R. Anderson
Late in the evening on April 16, President Trump informed the Senate that he was officially vetoing S.J. Res. 7, the joint resolution that many hoped would bring an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led military intervention against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Trump’s veto almost certainly means that S.J. Res. 7 will never be enacted into law. But it sets the stage for the next fight over U.S. involvement in Yemen’s civil war. And the statement Trump issued explaining his decision provides some clues on how it might be fought.
S.J. Res. 7 is the result of a multi-year debate in Congress, made possible by “priorityprocedures” put in place by the War Powers Resolution that allow legislators to force floor debates and votes on measures that seek to remove U.S. military personnel from “hostilities” overseas. Motivated by both the Yemen conflict and the Trump administration’s failure to hold the Saudi government accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Senate finally approved one such measure in December 2018—only for it to be rendered moot days later when the 115th Congress adjourned. Members of the new Congress, however, soon introduced identical jointresolutions in both the Senate and the (now Democratically-controlled) House. Early in 2019, both chambers approved the Senate version, S.J. Res. 7, with every Democrat and independent voting in support alongside 16 Republicans in the House and seven Republicans in the Senate.
As passed, S.J. Res. 7 “directs the President to remove [U.S. armed forces] from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen,” except those targeting al-Qaeda, within 30 days, “unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use . . . has been enacted.” It defines “hostilities” to include “in-flight refueling of non-[U.S.] aircraft conducting missions as part of the ongoing civil war in Yemen[.]” Yet it also contains carve-outs for certain intelligence-related activities and military cooperation with Israel, allowing both to continue in at least certain circumstances.
Trump had repeatedly promised to veto the joint resolution as it moved through Congress. But as time passed after the final vote without presidential action, some observers began to speculate that the mercurial president was changing his views and embracing a military wind-down in Yemen, as he had done in Afghanistan and Syria. In fact, Congress appears to have been the cause of the delay, as it waited almost two weeks to formally transmit S.J. Res. 7 to the president. Trump ultimately vetoed the measure the same day he received it, as promised.
Trump’s veto statement casts S.J. Res. 7 in a harsh light, decrying it as “an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken [the president’s] constitutional authorities.” Most of the statement focuses on the Trump administration’s long-standing argument that S.J. Res. 7’s reference to “hostilities,” a term of art taken directly from the War Powers Resolution, does not cover the “limited support” the United States is providing the Saudi-led coalition. As Trump describes, this support “includ[es] intelligence sharing, logistics support, and, until recently, in-flight refueling of non-United States aircraft” that the United States is providing “consistent with applicable Arms Export Control Act authorities, statutory authorities that permit the Department of Defense to provide logistics support to foreign countries, and the President’s constitutional power as Commander in Chief.” As a result, according to the Trump administration, S.J. Res. 7’s directive has no bearing on these activities and Congress’s efforts would be better directed elsewhere—specifically, Trump suggests, confirming his diplomatic nominees and supporting the military drawdowns he is pursuing in Afghanistan and Syria.
You can read the full analysis at The Brookings Institution here.