Sanders, Khanna welcome call by senior Obama officials to defund Yemen war

Bernie SandersSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) welcomed a new effort by senior Obama Administration officials, constitutional scholars, Yemeni activists, progressive leaders, celebrities, and philanthropists to urge Congress to defund unauthorized U.S. military activities in Yemen.

The letter, organized by the Quaker peace advocacy organization Friends Committee on National Legislation, features President Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, Vice Presidential National Security Advisors Jake Sullivan and Colin Kahl, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, White House Middle East Coordinator Robert Malley, and U.S. Special Envoy to the African Great Lakes Region Tom Perriello, among other senior administration officials.

“In addition to making a war with Iran more likely, the conflict in Yemen is also imperiling tens of millions of the most vulnerable people on earth through disease, starvation, and violence,” wrote the public figures to Democratic Congressional leadership with regard to the Saudi-led military campaign, now in its fifth year. “We urge you to use the opportunity presented by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 (NDAA) to reassert the power over war that the Constitution vests in Congress in order to terminate unauthorized U.S. participation in the Saudi-led military campaign.”

In March, Sanders—partnering with Khanna, the Progressive Caucus, and Congressional Republicans—introduced Senate Joint Resolution 7, invoking the War Powers Act of 1973, to direct the president to end unauthorized hostilities in Yemen. Bipartisan majorities in both chambers passed the bill, a milestone in the 45 years since the enactment of the War Powers Act. President Trump vetoed the measure, insisting on prosecuting a war declared unauthorized by Congress. “This defiance has no precedent in the history of America’s constitutional governance,” the letter’s signatories note.

The letter urges Democratic leadership to now “hold firm and work together” to insert into the annual bill authorizing Defense Department spending a provision prohibiting all ongoing U.S. involvement in the war, introduced by both Sanders and Khanna. In the House, the measure was adopted by a 240-vote margin and was co-sponsored by Representatives Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

The signatories call on Congress to “utilize its ultimate leverage—the power of the purse—to effectively override Trump’s veto, enshrine its will into federal law, and prohibit all funds from going to this war.” A Congressional prohibition of the broad spectrum of U.S. involvement in the Saudi air campaign “could quickly halt these Saudi bombings,” they argue, and could play “a key role in resolving the conflict and humanitarian crisis.”

“When we first started out to use the War Powers Act to end this unconstitutional war, we faced an uphill battle. But we are building a powerful grassroots movement to stop this humanitarian nightmare,” said Sanders. “The activists, scholars, and national security experts who led this letter are exactly right: Congress must now stand up to this president and block every nickel of taxpayer money from going to this unconstitutional war. By ending this conflict, Congress has a chance to not only alleviate the suffering of millions of Yemenis, but ensure that America is never again embroiled in another unconstitutional war.”

Other prominent signatories include legal scholars Bruce Ackerman and Larry Tribe of Yale and Harvard Law Schools, former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine, veteran CIA analyst and expert on U.S.-Saudi relations, Bruce Riedel, and Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams. Leaders of progressive organizations, such as Open Society Foundations, Ploughshares Fund, MoveOn, Indvisible, VoteVets, Public Citizen, Demand Progress, Win Without War, Common Defense, Peace Action, and Quincy Institute also participated, as did progressive filmmakers Mark Ruffalo, Alyssa Milano and Ava DuVernay.

“It’s encouraging to see so many national security experts, activists, and even the Incredible Hulk coming together to voice their opposition to U.S. support for the war in Yemen,” said Khanna. “The Yemen War Powers Resolution stands as a bipartisan, bicameral commitment to end the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and restore Congressional war powers in the United States Constitution. No president should ever be allowed to declare war without first seeking Congressional authorization. This amendment must be kept in the final defense bill to bring about an end to the war. President Trump was elected on the promise of putting a stop to our endless wars: It’s time he follow through on that pledge.”

Read the letter here.


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