There are tough votes, and then there are votes that break your heart.
My vote yesterday in support of a procedural rule to advance what’s known as the Farm Bill was one that broke my heart. That’s because members of the Republican Party’s most conservative wing — with the approval of House Speaker Paul Ryan — snuck in a last-minute provision that would make it harder for Congress to end U.S. support of the Saudi coalition at war with Yemen. A war that is causing unspeakable suffering for the innocent people of Yemen.
The first question I got after the vote was this: What does the Farm Bill have to do with Yemen? The answer is “nothing.” But this is what you get when poison pills — or unrelated policy riders — are allowed to be absorbed into otherwise agreeable bills. The Farm Bill was a solid compromise between both parties and both chambers of Congress. After it passed, both Democrats and Republicans alike hailed it as a bipartisan achievement that will do great things for our country, funding priorities like combating the opioid crisis, expanding bioenergy efforts and reducing agricultural pollution. Most importantly, it funds our country’s nutrition assistance program called SNAP — or food stamps — that 48.6 million Americans rely on for their next meal, including 250,000 Marylanders.
Ultimately, the Farm Bill succeeded with a huge bipartisan majority. But the Republicans and Democrats now congratulating themselves on this victory would not have had the opportunity to support and pass the Farm Bill if I and four other Democrats had not supported the Yemen rider Republicans decided to make a prerequisite for a vote. Without a rule, the vote would not have taken place. Many Americans could have gone hungry. And the war in Yemen could have still continued.
Let me be clear: to end the war in Yemen, Congress would still need to pass the concurrent resolution authored by Rep. Ro Khanna withdrawing U.S. military support — a resolution that I am proudly cosponsoring. There’s no guarantee that this resolution would pass. In fact, if yesterday’s actions are any indication, Republican leadership would likely lobby its members to vote against it.
The second question I got was this: don’t you care about the starving children in Yemen? The answer is, “of course.” As a father, a grandfather, a man of faith and conscience, I am sickened by the graphic images we are seeing from journalists documenting the humanitarian crisis and famine. I’ve been to Yemen several times and I understand the dire circumstances there exacerbated by this war.And my record reflects this. Last year, I voted to repeal the current Authorization for Use of Military Force that President Donald Trump is using as legal justification to support the war in Yemen. I am cosponsoring Congressman Khanna’s resolution to withdraw our troops from Yemen. In the 116th Congress, I intend to lead the charge and leverage my role as a defense appropriator to ensure that no money in the Fiscal Year 2020 Defense Appropriations Bill can be used for military operations in Yemen that are not authorized by Congress.
Yesterday was a sad day for me, and for our country. My conservative colleagues tied the well-being of millions of American families, farmers and our natural resources to the ability of Congress to help end an international atrocity. It’s shady, it’s wrong, it’s politics at its ugliest. Thankfully, Republican control of the House of Representatives is about to end. And there’s nothing stopping Congress from using the War Powers Resolution to direct the president to withdraw our troops from unauthorized actions in Yemen after the new Congress is sworn in January 3rd.
My heart is heavy, but I do not have regrets about the decision I made yesterday. It ensured 48 million Americans will eat tonight. And it strengthened my resolve to fight for peace and security for the citizens of Yemen.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 2nd District. Twitter: @Call_Me_Dutch.