PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Amid pressure from progressive activists, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is pledging to try and keep language in the upcoming military spending bill that would end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Three amendments aimed at ending the Yemen conflict were included in the funding bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House, but it’s unclear whether they will make the cut following conference negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate.
More than a dozen local progressive groups, including the Rhode Island Working Families Party and the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, sent a letter to Reed on Tuesday urging him to fight for the Yemen language through his position as the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Citing UN reports that more than 24 million people need aid due to the war, the groups wrote, “Ending hostilities is the essential first step toward easing the humanitarian emergency and negotiating a political solution to the conflict.” The Washington Post reported a bipartisan group of lawmakers have sent Reed and other top Armed Services Committee leaders their own letter of support.
Reed’s position on Yemen has drawn close scrutiny after he was one of a handful of Senate Democrats who voted last year to continue U.S. support for the Saudis there. Last fall, however, he reversed course and backed a resolution proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders to end American backing.
In a statement Friday, Reed spokesperson Chip Unruh said retaining the Yemen language would be a priority for the senator during final negotiations over the 2019-20 defense appropriations bill, which is expected to be hammered out in the coming weeks.
“Senator Reed believes we should not provide support to offensive military operations against the Houthis as part of the ongoing civil war in Yemen,” Unruh told WPRI 12, referring to a group that has rebelled against the country’s military.
Unruh said Reed has backed 22 resolutions of disapproval to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and also introduced a bill, the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act, aimed at de-escalating the conflict.
“He’ll continue demanding real accountability from Saudi leaders for human rights abuses and a more active, constructive role for the United States in pushing for a negotiated settlement to end the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Unruh said.
A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said he also wants the Yemen language to be in the final funding bill.
Rhode Island’s two congressmen, Democrats David Cicilline and Jim Langevin, are both strongly supportive of reducing U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen. Cicilline co-sponsored one of the three amendments at issue, while Langevin has said he will push for them as a member of the House Armed Services Committee expected to take part in conference negotiations.
David Segal, a former Rhode Island state representative who now leads the advocacy group Demand Progress, argued in an email that Reed should heed those who have contacted him about the Yemen war.
“Reed must decide if he will wield the vast power he has secured as ranking member of the Armed Services Committee to stand with all of them — or, alternatively, if he will effectively side with the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia’s murderous dictator as untold thousands more die in Yemen,” Segal said.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook