No speaker of the House in the history of the republic has so shamefully disregarded the system of checks and balances as has Paul Ryan in his steady service to the presidency of Donald Trump. And now, even as Ryan prepares to flee the chamber, having given up his seat rather than face the voters on November 6, the speaker continues to defer to Trump rather than the Constitution.
On Wednesday, Ryan and his Republican allies in the lame-duck leadership of a House that will in January be controlled by the Democrats, blocked action on ending all US military support to a Saudi Arabia-led-coalition that is inflicting untold misery on Yemen. By a 201-187 vote, they approved a measure that included a provision that bars Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) from forcing a vote on a Yemen proposal that he and a handful of other House members have advanced.
Khanna, who has worked for more than a year to make Yemen an issue, and who has built a bipartisan coalition in favor of ending US support for the brutal Saudi-supported assault on the country’s impoverished civilian population, called out Ryan’s majority in a fiery speech from the House floor.
“Let’s be very clear: This is unprecedented in American history,” the California Democrat declared. “What the majority is saying is that if the president of the United States and the Speaker believe we should be in war, we should be at war.”
The work of Khanna and allies such as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan (D-WI) has drawn attention to the horrors that are unfolding in Yemen—to such an extent that the Trump administration announced last week that US forces will no longer provide aerial refueling for Saudi coalition planes. But the US military continues to support a Saudi mission that, Khanna notes, “since 2015, has launched an estimated 18,000 air strikes on Yemen, attacking hospitals, schools, water treatment plants, funerals, markets and even farms. The Saudis also imposed a blockade on food, fuel and medicine from freely entering the country in what can only be described as a deliberate effort to starve the civilian population into submission.”
Some Republicans have suggested that blocking Khanna’s proposal is not a big deal because Democrats can take the issue up when they take charge in January. But anyone who is aware on the realities on the ground knows this is an unconscionable delay.
“Civilians are paying a shocking price because of this conflict,” explains Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the Yemen, who has suggested that the country could experience the planet’s cruelest famine in 100 years, with as many as 13 million civilians at risk of dying.
On Wednesday, Khanna ripped into Republican leaders for “abdicating congressional oversight duties on their way out of power.” And he spoke in blunt terms about the human toll that will extend from that abdication.
“Five hundred thousand children will die in a matter of months. They don’t have aid. They don’t have nutrition,” the congressman told the House. “And when the history of Congress is written, [it will tell of how] the Congress did not allow a vote while hundreds of thousands of kids were not allowed food and medicine.”