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On Dec. 7, the Senate voted down S.J.Res.31 – a bipartisan resolution, sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Bernie Sanders (VT), and Mike Lee (UT), to block a $650 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. 

The Biden administration claimed the  air-to-air munitions were to be used for “defensive” purposes  in preventing cross-border drone attacks by Yemen’s Houthis. The Joint Resolution of Disapproval (JRD) was defeated 67 to 30

While it is disappointing that the resolution did not get the majority needed to pass, this historic vote shows the growing momentum in Congress to end U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war and blockade on Yemen.

Before the vote, FCNL signed a letter endorsed by 50 national organizations in support of S.J.Res.31, arguing that:

Approving this sale sends a message of impunity that the United States supports Saudi Arabia’s escalating policy of collective punishment, at a time when it is critical the administration heed the calls of over 100 members of Congress to use U.S. leverage, including the halting of arms transfers and military assistance, to end the blockade and other violations against civilians in Yemen.

Opposition to U.S. Participation in the War in Yemen is Still Robust

The Biden administration’s framing of this weapons sale as “defensive” made it harder for senators to oppose it. Despite this, dozens of senators on both sides of the aisle still voted to block the sale, which demonstrates the strength of opposition within Congress to ongoing U.S. involvement in the war.

This bipartisan resolution received support from a majority of Senate Democrats.

Meanwhile, many Senate offices that supported the sale confirmed in our lobby meetings that they don’t support ongoing U.S. military participation in the Saudi-led war effort, including the provision of maintenance for Saudi aircraft.

A Majority of Senate Democrats Voted Against the Weapons Sale

It’s notable that this bipartisan resolution to block President Biden’s weapons sale to Saudi Arabia received support from a majority of Senate Democrats and was cosponsored by Sens. Pat Leahy (VT), Ron Wyden (OR), Ed Markey (MA), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Patty Murray (WA). 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (IL), and first-term senators Alex Padilla (CA), Jon Ossoff (GA), and Raphael Warnock (GA) also supported the measure. 

Building Momentum to End U.S. Complicity in Yemen

Before the vote, Data for Progress conducted a poll on the sale of $650 million in air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia. Their polling showed a strong majority of voters opposed this arms sale. Democrats opposed by a -37-point margin and Republicans by a -38-point margin. This message is getting through to Congress.

This vote also spurred powerful floor speeches by Sens. Rand Paul (KY) and Bernie Sanders (VT), a joint statement by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and national media attention on the crisis in Yemen.

Sen. Paul condemned the weapons sale before the vote. “We could stop this war if we really had the will to do it,” he said. “All of America should be appalled at the humanitarian disaster caused by the Saudi blockade of Yemen.” 

What’s Next?

FCNL will continue to oppose new weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as all ongoing U.S. participation in this brutal war and blockade on Yemen. In 2022, we will ask members of Congress to introduce and pass a new Yemen War Powers Resolution to end ongoing U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war. After nearly seven years of U.S.-enabled conflict, Yemen can’t wait any longer.

Hassan El-Tayyab

Hassan El-Tayyab

Legislative Director for Middle East Policy and Advocacy Organizer

Hassan El-Tayyab is an author, songwriter, and FCNL’s legislative director for Middle East policy and advocacy organizer.

Kat DesCamp-Renner

Kat DesCamp-Renner

Program Assistant, Middle East Policy (2021-2022)

Kat DesCamp-Renner was the program assistant for Middle East policy.