PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse broke with most of their fellow Democrats on Tuesday, voting against a resolution that would have pulled American troops out of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The Senate voted 54-45 to kill a bipartisan resolution that would have limited U.S. involvement in the Middle East conflict. The measure was sponsored by Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, Utah Republican Mike Lee and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy.
“I’m deeply disappointed that Congress again abdicated its constitutional duty to authorize war,” Sanders tweeted after the vote. “Over and over, Congress has sat back and failed to ask the hard questions as administrations have misled us into conflicts, including Vietnam and Iraq, with disastrous consequences.”
Reed and Whitehouse were among just 10 Democrats who voted against the Sanders resolution. They were also the only two New England senators to vote that way, as the other 10 – seven Democrats, two independents and one Republican – supported the measure.
Reed is the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Whitehouse is less dovish than some of his party colleagues. The pair faced criticism from progressives last year when they voted to confirm some of President Trump’s nominees for key national-security posts.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Reed agreed that the war in Yemen presents “a very difficult set of issues,” saying it has gone on “for too long” and is causing hardship and instability. He also criticized the Trump administration for failing to lay out a clear strategy regarding the conflict.
But Reed went on to say he thinks American involvement is making the situation better for civilians in Yemen, and he fears a U.S. withdrawal could lead to escalation. “Our support to the Saudi-led coalition needs to be considered in a thoughtful and deliberate manner,” he said.
“Given its comprehensive approach, I do not believe the Sanders resolution is the appropriate vehicle for these issues to receive the careful and deliberate consideration they are due,” Reed said.
In a statement Tuesday night, Whitehouse defended his vote. “I share the concerns of many colleagues about the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Yemen,” he said.
But, he continued, “I don’t see how precipitous withdrawal of the limited support the U.S. military provides would make things better in achieving our humanitarian or strategic aims, and voting on it without hearings or committee work seems rash.”
Reed and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, also sent a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis on Tuesday seeking more information about American involvement in Yemen.
Alexander McCoy, a Rhode Island native and Marine Corps veteran who is now communications director for the progressive group Common Defense, criticized the senators’ votes as “shameful and unacceptable.”
“Senators like Reed and Whitehouse, who heard directly from military veteran constituents this week, have shown they would rather stand with Donald Trump than with the veteran community,” McCoy argued in a statement.
State Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Whitehouse this fall, said he would also have voted against the Sanders resolution.
“Our involvement in Yemen is primarily in support of our ally, Saudi Arabia,” Nardolillo said in a statement. “The current U.S. visit by the Saudi crown prince highlights the importance of America keeping its promises to regional allies.”
“This is an issue where Mr. Whitehouse and I see the same evidence and come to the same conclusion,” he added.
Another Republican, former R.I. Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders, is also seeking the party’s Senate nomination against Whitehouse. He said he would have voted the same way.
“I would oppose it if I were serving in the Senate; the U.S. has important interests in Yemen, including fighting terrorist organizations that are there,” Flanders wrote on Twitter.Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook