With yesterday’s vote to advance a bill ending US support for the war in Yemen, a vital change has taken place. The principle is reestablished that we can force a vote in Congress on unauthorized — and therefore unconstitutional — wars anytime we can get a single member of Congress to insist on a vote.
Let us look each other in the eye and commit that we will push by any and all legal and nonviolent means necessary to force as many votes as necessary in the Senate and the House before Congress adjourns for the year, in order to end the Yemen war and stop the famine. The United Nations and aid groups have said forcefully that there must be a sustained cease-fire right now in order to get the people and resources into Yemen that are necessary to stop the famine. Not in January. Right now.
Any member of the House, any day the House is in session, can now introduce a new House Yemen War Powers Resolution, and that resolution will be privileged, guaranteed a vote on the House floor. That resolution does not need to be led by the sponsors of the last bill. There can also be more than one bill. There can be a Republican bill, there can be a Democratic bill, there can be a bipartisan bill, or all of the above.
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House Speaker Paul Ryan and his Rules Committee can try to block a vote by bringing forward a rule that de-privileges each bill. But advocates for ending the Yemen war right now and stopping the famine can beat Paul Ryan and his Rules Committee by having the votes on the floor to defeat any such rule. Last time, we were only seven votes shy of defeating Ryan on the vote on the rule — and that was before yesterday, when the Senate voted 63-37 to advance the Sanders-Lee-Murphy bill, with every single Democratic senator and 14 Republicans voting in favor. That was also before House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi finally agreed to co-sponsor the House Yemen War Powers Resolution. We should expect every single member of the House Democratic Caucus to vote with us on the rule next time, unlike last time, when six House Democrats voted against us. That’s six of the seven missing votes right there, if every Democrat votes with us in the House, as they just did in the Senate.
If the Senate passes the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution next week, then the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution will be guaranteed a floor vote in the House. But advocates for ending the Yemen war right now, and stopping the famine can’t afford to wait for that, because the clock is ticking toward adjournment of the House for the year. We need to be sure to reach the House floor before the House adjourns. That’s why we need to reintroduce the resolution in the House now and start pushing for a floor vote in the House now, without waiting for final action in the Senate.
If the Senate passes one bill and the House passes another bill, then the conferees can do whatever they want to move the bill forward. For example, they can do a “concurrent resolution,” directing the president to remove US forces from the unconstitutional war under the War Powers Resolution. That concurrent resolution would be binding on the president. Under the War Powers Resolution, President Trump has to end the unconstitutional war in Yemen, if the Senate and the House agree on a concurrent resolution directing him to do so.
This has never been tried before since the War Powers Resolution was passed into law by Congress in 1973 over President Nixon’s veto. But we’re in an unprecedented situation right now because of the urgency of the famine in Yemen, and because so far, on war powers, Trump is unlike any president we’ve had since Nixon. Trump is not only insisting in theory that Congress can’t tell him what to do on war powers, as all other presidents have done. He is threatening to insist on it in practice.
The way that congressional war powers always worked in the past is that Congress tipped its hand and showed its high cards, and the president caved. No president has ever conceded in theory that Congress can tell him what to do on war powers, but every president has conceded it in practice, as soon as Congress tipped its hand and showed its high cards.
In August 2013, President Obama never conceded in theory that he had to go to Congress for authorization before bombing Syria. But when 200 members of the House signed letters demanding that he do so, he conceded it in practice. Then, when he couldn’t get Congress to pass an authorization for the use of military force, President Obama still didn’t concede in theory that he needed an authorization for the use of force in order to bomb Syria. But he conceded it in practice by abandoning his push for an authorization of force and accepting a diplomatic agreement instead.
Yet Trump is defying even this norm, and threatening to insist in practice that Congress can’t tell him what to do on war powers. This is why, to force the end of the Yemen war now, rather than in January — as the United Nations and aid groups say is necessary to stop the famine — we need a credible threat now to pass a Yemen War Powers Resolution in the House as well as in the Senate. That is why we must reintroduce a Yemen War Powers Resolution in the House now and begin pushing for a vote in the House now.