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 the Janesville Republican prepares to flee the chamber, having given up his seat rather than face the voters on Nov. 6, the speaker continues to defer to Trump rather than the Constitution.
Last week, Ryan and the lame-duck leadership of a House that will in January be controlled by the Democrats blocked action on ending all U.S. military support to a Saudi Arabia-led coalition that is inflicting untold misery on Yemen. By a 201-187 vote, they approved a measure into which Ryan’s leadership team had slipped a provision that comforts the murderous Saudi government rather than the dying children of Yemen.
Craftily drawn by Republican legislators who have repeatedly abandoned both their constitutional duties and the most basic morality, this crude provision barred Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan, D-town of Vermont, from forcing a vote on a Yemen proposal that’s been advanced by House members who seek to save lives.
Khanna and Pocan, who have worked for more than a year to make Yemen an issue, and who have built a bipartisan coalition in favor of ending U.S. support for the brutal Saudi-supported assault on Yemen’s impoverished civilian population — as part of a proxy war with the Iranians — 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 explained. “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.”
What Ryan and the Republicans have done, argued Khanna, “is unprecedented and would undermine the very purpose of the War Powers Act. Anyone who cares about Article I of the Constitution should be outraged.”
With Pocan, Khanna has assembled a group of more than 85 House members as co-sponsors of a House continuing resolution that directs the president — pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution — “to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” It’s a sound proposal that has gained the support of key figures in the House, including Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. And there is a very good chance that a combination of Democrats and libertarian-leading Republicans who question military adventurism could pass the resolution.
That’s why Ryan’s scheming to prevent a vote is so troubling.
This is an urgent moment, yet the speaker is responding with legislative trickery that may satisfy the Saudis but that should enrage every American who has a conscience.
“While millions of Yemenis starve to death, Speaker Ryan and the House GOP are using every trick possible to prevent us from ending this genocide,” said Pocan. “My colleagues and I will not be silent as they allow the U.S. to remain complicit in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
That refusal to be silent is necessary — and consequential.
The work done by Pocan and Khanna over the past year has drawn attention to the horrors that are unfolding in Yemen. The ruckus that the congressmen and their allies have raised regarding U.S. support for the Saudi war has shaken the White House and the Pentagon to such an extent that the Trump administration announced this month that U.S. forces will no longer provide aerial refueling for Saudi coalition planes. That was an important step in the right direction. So, too, have been the calls by Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a cease-fire in Yemen within 30 days.
But, explained Pocan and Khanna, “(these steps) are nowhere near sufficient. The Trump administration has yet to condition U.S. military participation in the Saudi campaign on the successful outcome of negotiations. Rather than insist that the Saudi regime’s adversaries take the first step toward peace, the Trump administration must work to secure concessions from the Saudis to stop their brutal bombing campaign, ease their blockade of food and medicine, and end fresh assaults and military sieges on heavily populated centers.”
Some Republicans suggest 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 of the realities on the ground knows this is an unconscionable delay.
Thousands have died already because of delays. Hundreds of thousands more, perhaps millions more, could die because of further delays. “Civilians are paying a shocking price because of this conflict,” explained Lise Grande, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for 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.
Yet the U.S. military continues to support a Saudi mission that Khanna described as “a deliberate effort to starve the civilian population into submission.”
Ryan and his colleagues in the House Republican leadership are “abdicating congressional oversight duties on their way out of power,” said Khanna, who speaks in appropriately 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.”
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com and @NicholsUprising.
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