What the hell is wrong with Paul Ryan? At a point when the whole world is demanding urgent action to end the Saudi-led bombardment and starvation of Yemen, the Speaker of the House has been scheming to prevent congressional debate on a resolution to get the United States out of a humanitarian crisis.
This is not about partisanship or ideology. As Ryan was blocking action in the House this week, 11 Senate Republicans—including some of the chamber’s most conservative members—voted with Democrats to open the Senate debate on ending US military support for the Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen.
The 60-39 vote to advance the bipartisan effort by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) to invoke the war-powers authority of the Congress to constrain military interventions and engagements by the Executive Branch, cleared that way for a 56-41 vote on Thursday in favor of the S.J.Res. 54: “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.”
“Today we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be a part of their military adventurism,” declared Sanders, who has for months made the case for congressional action on Yemen, waging a two-pronged campaign for the resolution. First, he made a moral argument, telling his colleagues they have a duty to end US support for Saudi abuses that have fostered a “humanitarian and strategic disaster” in Yemen—a crisis so severe that United Nations officials say it could lead to the worst famine in a century. Second, the senator made a constitutional argument, explaining that “The Senate must reassert its constitutional authority and end our support of this unauthorized and unconstitutional war.”
Both arguments were sound. And they gained traction with top Senate Republicans in the aftermath of the Saudi murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. They chose, at the urging of Sanders and his allies, to embrace morality and their duty to the Constitution—even as White House aides made every effort to thwart the resolution.
Unfortunately, Ryan continues to do the bidding of the Trump administration and the Saudi regime with which the president is so closely aligned. Ryan refuses to concern himself with reports on what United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund describes as “a war on children.”
“Yemen has become a hell on earth for millions of children. Today every single boy, every single girl in Yemen is facing extremely dire need,” says UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere, who reports that, on average, a child is dying every 10 minutes in Yemen—a country where more than 400,000 children are starving and an additional 1.5 million are acutely malnourished.
Ryan went to extraordinary ends to prevent discussion of a change in US policy, which might cause the Saudis to relent. The speaker and his allies attached a clause to a measure related to the farm bill, which effectively blocked action on a Yemen bill that Congressman Ro Khanna has advanced in tandem with the Sanders initiative in the Senate.
The measure was approved by a 206-203 vote, with five Democrats—California’s Jim Costa, Florida’s Al Lawson, Minnesota’s Collin Peterson, Maryland’s Dutch Ruppersberger, and Georgia’s David Scott—aiding Ryan’s scheme. These five Democrats cast indefensible votes, and they should be ashamed of themselves. But the greatest shame is on Ryan and his caucus, as they have engaged in a pattern of moves to prevent action on the Yemen crisis.
“For the second time in less than a month, Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders in the House have opted to undermine our democracy by slipping a rule to block a vote on ending U.S. support for the war in Yemen into an entirely unrelated bill,” explained Paul Kawika Martin, Peace Action’s senior director for policy and political affairs. “They have once again taken the position that ending or even debating the U.S. role in the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet is not worth serious consideration, even as the United Nations warns the war-induced famine in Yemen could soon become the worst famine in 100 years. There’s a grotesque irony in Republican leadership using the farm bill, legislation meant to ensure Americans are fed, to stop debate on ending U.S. support for a war that is starving millions in Yemen.”
Ro Khanna was outraged. “This is why people hate Congress,” declared the congressman. “Speaker Ryan is not allowing a vote on my resolution to stop the war in Yemen because many Republicans will vote with us and he will lose the vote. He is disgracing Article 1 of the Constitution, and as a result, more [Yemeni] children will die.”
The urgency of the circumstance inspired activists to launch a #YemenCantWait campaign. As Khanna explained, “Fourteen million people are on the brink of famine in Yemen. Eighty-five thousand children have already died from cholera and starvation. Our Yemen War Powers Resolution can’t wait until 2019.”
But the resolution will have to wait until Ryan steps down and Democrats take charge of the chamber in January. No speaker of the House have ever ended his tenure on so shameful a note.
“Paul Ryan and others who supported the de-privileging of this Yemen bill, and with it the effective de-privileging of Congress’ authority on war, are condemning more Yemeni civilians to die horrible deaths, and condemning our nation as a democracy in name only,” said Peace Action’s Martin. “History will not look kindly on those who abdicated their constitutional duty to debate and vote on our nation’s wars in the name of petty politics and shoring up future campaign contributions from the arms industry and pro-Saudi lobbyists.”