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Rep. Ro Khanna: By Blocking Yemen Resolution, House GOP Is Abdicating Its Duty to Decide War & Peace

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House Republicans have quashed debate on a resolution that aims to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, by sneaking a single line into an unrelated resolution about wolves. The House voted 201 to 187 on the bill Wednesday, approving a provision that blocks the Democrats from forcing a vote on the U.S. role in Yemen under the War Powers Act. For nearly four years the United States has played a key role supporting the Saudi-led invasion, which has devastated Yemen, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The U.N. is warning 14 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine. One new study has estimated the war has killed at least 57,000 people since the beginning of 2016. We speak with Congressmember Ro Khanna, who introduced the resolution in the House.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: House Republicans have quashed debate on a resolution that aims to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, by sneaking a single line into an unrelated resolution about wolves. The House voted 201 to 187 on the bill Wednesday, approving a provision that blocks the Democrats from forcing a vote on the U.S. role in Yemen under the War Powers Act.

For nearly four years, the United States has played a key role supporting the Saudi-led invasion, which has devastated Yemen, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The U.N. is warning 14 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine. One new study has estimated the war has killed at least 57,000 people since the beginning of 2016.

We’re going to be joined in a minute by Ro Khanna, Democratic congressmember from California, who introduced the legislation in the House. But first let’s go to him responding Wednesday to the Republican move.

REP. RO KHANNA: This is unprecedented. In American history, never, never has the speaker of the House and the majority denied a member of Congress a vote on matters of war and peace. This is basically rendering ineffectual the War Powers Act. … And what the majority is saying, that if the president of the United States and the speaker believe we should be in war, we should be in war; it doesn’t matter what members of Congress think. … And when history is written, they’re not going to say Jim McGovern did this, or Ro Khanna did this, or Newhouse did this. They’re going to say, “How did the Congress not allow a vote, while hundreds of thousands of kids were not allowed food and medicine?”

AMY GOODMAN: This all comes as the Trump administration is facing growing pressure over its close ties to Saudi Arabia following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2nd. The Trump administration recently announced the U.S. will no longer provide refueling to Saudi planes bombing Yemen, but it did not end other forms of assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, including intelligence and weapons sales.

The House vote came just one day after a saudi airstrike by the U.S.-backed coalition killed at least seven people in the port city of Hodeidah. The airstrike targeted a bus of civilians who were fleeing violence.

For more, we go directly to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Khanna. Explain what happened on the floor of the House yesterday.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, thanks for having me back on. It was really an outrage. In American history, the precedent is that any member of Congress can bring a war powers resolution to force a vote on matters of war and peace. And the Congress has to allow for a vote within 15 days. We brought a resolution to stop our refueling and logistical support of the Saudis in their bombing campaign in Yemen. Under the rules, under the statute, we were entitled to a vote within 15 days. The Republicans didn’t allow us to have that vote, because they fear that they would have Republican defections. As it is, 15 Republicans stood up against the speaker, against this move. And so, they know that the public opinion, even in their own body, is changing, and they didn’t allow us to have a fair vote.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ro Khanna, can you explain what you fear are the broader implications of what the Republicans did yesterday?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, Congressman Newhouse said, “What’s the difference? Why can’t you just wait 'til January, when you're in the majority?” But that statement comes from ignorance. We know that 500,000 children face death because of malnourishment, because they’re not getting basic food, they’re not getting medicine. And the reason that is the case is the coalition is bombing the port of Hodeidah, and humanitarian workers aren’t allowed to get food and medicine into Yemen.

Now, bracket the politics. I believe the coalition has been more to blame than the Houthis. The Houthis don’t have clean hands. They are backed, in some cases, by Iran. But put aside the politics. Everyone, whether you’re more sympathetic to the coalition or more sympathetic to the Houthis, knows that there needs to be an immediate cessation of violence. And it’s the Saudis that are bombing the ports, that aren’t allowing food and medicine in. All this resolution would have done is stopped that violence to allow humanitarian aid in. Unfortunately now, we’re going to have to wait months. And every day we wait, a [Yemeni] child is dying. There are reports that a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Khanna, let’s go back to Republican Congressmember Dan Newhouse, who you referenced, suggesting the vote should take place when the Democrats gain control of the House in January. But he began his remarks by saying your resolution is based on a faulty premise.

REP. DAN NEWHOUSE: Nobody is afraid to debate anything here on the House floor. The fact is, though, that the U.S. is no longer providing the very support that the Khanna resolution seeks to cut off, making this action unnecessary. It’s based on a factually faulty premise. We are not involved in hostilities in Yemen, so the War Powers Act should not apply. As a result, even if this resolution passed both chambers, DOD would not need to alter any of its activities.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse. Your response, Congressman Khanna?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it’s not based on an understanding of what’s going on. We are involved in logistical support with the Saudis. We’re involved in helping them with targeting. We have Green Berets that have been involved in the Saudi campaign in Yemen. Now, the Republicans used to argue that we weren’t refueling or that refueling Saudi planes didn’t constitute engagement in hostilities. Mattis and Pompeo, fortunately, have announced that they’re going to stop refueling. But that’s not a binding decision. They could restart that fueling in a month, if they decided. So what we need is Congress to make it clear that we’re going to permanently stop refueling. But we also need to stop the logistical support and intelligence support that we’re giving the Saudis.

AMY GOODMAN: What does your resolution have to do with wolves?

REP. RO KHANNA: Absolutely nothing. And this is what people hate about Congress. What the Republicans did, they wanted to have a resolution that would allow for hunting of wolves and not have wolves be listed on the Endangered Species Act. And they knew many Republicans would want to vote for that, and so they linked a vote on my resolution to the vote on wolves so that Republicans would vote against my resolution coming to the floor, if they agreed with the position on wolves. It was a parliamentary maneuver. And we’ve never seen those kind of shenanigans with a war powers resolution.

And here’s the sad thing. They’re not just hurting children in Yemen and the humanitarian crisis; they’re undermining their own role as members of Congress. The framers intended Congress to be Article I of our Constitution for a reason. They thought Congress was the most powerful branch that would have jurisdiction over matters of war and peace. In fact, Madison was so concerned about Congress, he thought Congress would have too much power, given that they had a direct relationship with the public. He could never have imagined that Congress would voluntarily give up its power to the president. That’s what this Republican Congress is doing.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Congressman Khanna, I want to go back to what you just talked about, which is what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis said. Both of them seem to emphasize—even though they said that a ceasefire should occur now, they both seem to emphasize that the burden of the ceasefire lies with the Houthis in Yemen. So, could you explain why that is, whether other Republicans share that view, and what that means about what they’re asking, ultimately, Saudi Arabia to do? Because if Saudi Arabia’s stopping their strikes is contingent on what the Houthis do, are they really calling for Saudi-led coalition strikes to cease?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, that’s exactly right, Nermeen, And this is why we need Congress to make it clear that there should be an unconditional requirement that the Saudis stop the bombing. The Republican view, Pompeo’s view, Mattis’s view and several of the neocons in Congress’s view, is that Iran poses a threat to the region, that Iran is aiding the Houthis, and that while the Saudis aren’t perfect actors, we should be supportive of the Saudis to contain Iran’s growing influence in the region. That’s why we’ve had a policy more sympathetic to the coalition.

Now, I think Pompeo and Mattis saw the same pictures that all of us did in The New York Times of young kids starving to death, and they knew that there was finally an outcry in this country. The policy that they’ve announced, though, is conditional on the Houthis changing their behavior. Regardless of whether you think the Houthis are to blame in some way or not, what we need is a stop, is a cessation of the bombing in the port of Hodeidah. That is the immediate task. That’s why food and medicine isn’t being able to get to the kids and to the civilians in Yemen. And so, any person who’s looking at this fairly would say, “Let’s have that cessation of bombing, and then you can have [Martin] Griffiths at the U.N. negotiate what the proper political solution should be between the Houthis and the Saudis.”

AMY GOODMAN: Clearly, the Trump administration felt vulnerable, with their close ties to the Saudi regime, after the killing of Khashoggi, the murder of The Washington Post columnist, on October 2nd in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and so they started to talk about some kind of ceasefire, although it looks like they’re trying to stop the kind of moves that you’re involved with now on the floor of the House. Earlier today, the Saudi prosecutor, who answers to the Saudi crown prince, said they’re going to be putting five of the murderers to death, who they’ve said murdered Khashoggi. Can you talk about this investigation? Presumably, they’ve now finished their investigation, that President Trump and his son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner, very close to the crown prince, have endorsed. What do you make of today’s announcement by Saudi Arabia?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I think the Saudis are trying to deflect blame. There are reports that the crown prince was aware that Khashoggi was going to be murdered. And it’s very important to understand why Khashoggi was murdered. His last column in The Washington Post was calling for the end of the barbaric campaign in Yemen. He was murdered precisely because he was speaking for hundreds of thousands of Yemeni civilians who didn’t have a voice.

And I’m glad that Khashoggi’s murder has awakened the conscience of the United States and the world community about what was going on in Yemen. But the way we honor Khashoggi is not simply to seek retribution for the killers who took his life; it’s to make sure that the killers who are taking the lives of children in Yemen and hundreds of thousands of Yemeni civilians, are brought to justice and that that stops. That’s really the bigger issue that Khashoggi was concerned about.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about, Congressman Khanna, the role of the United Arab Emirates and what U.S. support for the UAE is, separate from Saudi Arabia?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, they have been complicit. They have been part of the coalition. The majority of the bombing is still being conducted by the Saudi regime, but the UAE has participated in the bombing, has participated in that support.

And to your earlier point, one of the reasons that Pompeo and Mattis called for a ceasefire of violence is they knew they were losing support in Congress. They knew that this war powers resolution was pending, that it was going to come for a vote, that they have 15 to 20 Republicans defecting, many from the Freedom Caucus, and they wanted to try to preempt that. And they did it in language, as you pointed out, that gives them a loophole so that they can blame the Houthis and the cycle of violence continues.

But my plea, to even Republican colleagues, is: Look at the humanitarian catastrophe. It’s in no one’s interest that kids and women continue to die and that you have a famine, as you pointed out, that could affect 14 million people. To put that in context, 800,000 people died in Rwanda, 100,000 died in Bosnia. The West Bengal famine, which is the worst in recorded human history, at least recent history, was 3 million people. And if we don’t do something here, you could have almost 14 million people not have food or medicine. It’s an issue that is of unproportional suffering, indescribable suffering, and we need to act.

AMY GOODMAN: I know you have to leave, Congressmember Khanna, but very quickly, is your next act going to be once there’s a Democratic House? And your response to that tape recording that’s been released by Turkey to a number of governments, including the U.S., where a member of the Saudi kill team responsible for the assassination is reportedly heard saying on the phone to the top aide to the Crown Prince, “tell your boss,” “the deed was done”?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I do think there’s very serious concern that the crown prince knew about the killing. And it makes sense that he would know about the killing. You don’t just have a journalist be taken to a consulate and killed by 10 to 15 people and the highest levels of government not knowing about that, especially when that journalist is criticizing the government’s policies in a war. So, I believe that—personally, that the crown prince did have knowledge about what was going on. He may have even authorized it. Of course, we need to continue to investigate it. But there is emerging circumstantial evidence that that is the case.

Our next step is two things. First, the Senate may take up the resolution. Bernie Sanders has been a very strong, clear voice for over a year and a half on this issue. I’m hopeful he will take this up in the Senate with Mike Lee and Rand Paul. If the Senate passes it, then we will bring it up again in the House before the lame-duck session ends, because we don’t have time to waste. If the Senate doesn’t pass it, then we will push to have this done in the first weeks of January. But the Saudis should know that the resolve of Congress is to bring this war to an end, that their relationship with the United States is fundamentally altered and that public sentiment in Congress is no longer on their side.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Khanna, we thank you for being with us. We know you have to race off to a meeting. Democratic congressmember from Silicon Valley, California, has been a leading critic of U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, what happened outside Chicago, when a black security guard in a bar, after shooters opened fire, tackled the shooter, and then the police moved in and killed him, the African-American security guard? Stay with us.

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