Republican Senator Blocks Amendment to End US Support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen

The biggest campaign contributors to Senator Shelby, who blocked the amendment, are defense contractors that have major arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

Republican Senator Blocks Amendment to End US Support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen

After an airstrike in Yemen conducted by a Saudi Arabian-led coalition this month left 40 children dead, concern quickly mounted over the logistical support and weapons that the U.S. government provides to support the ongoing war in Yemen. Munitions experts together with Yemeni journalists soon verified that the bomb was manufactured by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin and sold to the Saudi coalition by the U.S. government. In response to that news, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced an amendment to this year’s defense appropriations bill that would prevent taxpayer dollars from being spent to support the Saudi coalition’s aerial bombardments.

“The United States is a key player in this bombing campaign,” said Murphy on the Senate floor today. “The United States has personnel that sits in the targeting center when decisions are made as to what sites on the ground will be bombed. The United States pays to put planes in the air, to refuel the fighter jets flown by the Saudis and the Emiratis, and the United States sells the coalition the bombs that are used.”

However, his amendment was blocked from coming to a vote by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, saying they were trying to keep “a lot of riders off” this spending bill.

“The Senator from Connecticut has a worthy amendment and we’re all concerned about what’s going on in Yemen,” said Shelby. “This is something we’re going to have to address and I would like to work with him as would others on both sides of the aisle, because what’s been going on in Yemen is atrocious.”

Lockheed Martin was Senator Shelby’s second largest campaign contributor in his most recent election cycle, between 2011 and 2016, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. In those years, Shelby’s campaign committee and leadership PAC received $84,200 from Lockheed Martin’s PACs and employees. Only Boeing, which also has multi-billion dollar military deals with Saudi Arabia, contributed more.

Prior to being blocked by Sen. Shelby, Murphy’s amendment had quickly picked up steam. After originally being co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Schatz (Hawaii), Warren (Mass.), Feinstein (Calif.), Carper (Del.), Blumenthal (Conn.), and Kaine (Vir.), they were then joined by four more Democrats in Peters (Mich.), Booker (N.J.), Markey (Mass.), and Leahy (Vt.).

Senator Leahy joining the bill was particularly noteworthy since, as the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, he had recently pledged to avoid so-called “poison pill riders” in Senate spending bills. That announcement was viewed by observers as the potential rekindling of a bipartisan framework for handling Senate appropriations to which Leahy and Shelby were committing. Leahy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Sludge.

“The fact that a dozen senators signed on to Senator Murphy’s amendment signals that Congress is getting closer to a breaking point to end this war, and lays the foundation for Congress to block the bomb sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE that the Trump administration is pushing forward,” Kate Gould, legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation tells Sludge.

She added: “The news that it was a made-in-the-USA bomb that was used by the Saudi-led coalition to kill 40 children on a school bus in Yemen is just one more gruesome reminder of the urgent imperative for Congress to step up to the plate and end the illegal US war in Yemen.”