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Intel: Key Democrat says Yemen war restrictions 'on the table' in major defense bill

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., told Al-Monitor today that Democrats are considering renewing last year’s push to cut off US support to the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels as part of Congress’ annual defense authorization bill.

“There was bipartisan support last time, just not enough bipartisan support to overcome the objections of [Senate Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla.] and others in the Senate and at the White House,” Smith told Al-Monitor on a conference call with reporters. “So, that will certainly be on the table.”

While Democrats failed to defund US support for the war last year, Smith argued that the increased pressure on the coalition prompted the United Arab Emirates to “for the most part” exit the conflict.

“I want to keep the pressure on all parties involved, including, by the way, the Iranians and the Houthis, who are also part of this, to reach a peaceful settlement,” said Smith. “And whatever the best thing we can do to push in that direction, we are going to do.”

Why it matters: Democrats could have an opening to renew the fight to end US support for the Saudi coalition in this year’s defense bill as Riyadh’s oil price war with Russia drags on. The price war has alienated traditionally pro-Saudi Republican senators, many of whom represent oil-rich states adversely impacted by low energy prices. They have served as Riyadh’s last line of defense against legislation targeting the kingdom over the Yemen war and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

That includes Inhofe, who has called on President Donald Trump to slap tariffs on Saudi and Russian oil. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., has gone even further, threatening “not to bring any pro-Saudi Arabia legislation” to the floor and not to “oppose any anti-Saudi Arabia legislation until the kingdom proves itself worthy of our support.”

Smith also revealed that during last year’s negotiations on the defense bill, Republicans had insisted on adding a provision that would have allowed the United States to aid the Saudi coalition in response to Houthi attacks from Yemen.

“The problem is that’s kind of a back-door angle,” said Smith. “We haven’t in legislation to date authorized any US involvement in the civil war in Yemen. So, I will not accept a restriction that also opens a huge window to us authorizing military action in that way.”

What’s next: Smith said Democrats would finish drafting the initial version of their defense bill by May. He hopes that the Armed Services Committee would be able to vote on the legislation as soon as Congress returns from its lengthy recess that the coronavirus pandemic has prompted.

Know more: Congressional Correspondent Bryant Harris takes an in-depth look at how Saudi Arabia has lost its formerly stalwart Republican defenders on Capitol Hill amid the oil price war. And be sure to read his story detailing the Trump administration’s $73 million cut in humanitarian aid for Yemen despite the COVID-19 threat.

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