In “Hyper-Partisan” DC, Bipartisan Support for Backing Saudi Arabia’s Genocide in Yemen

Jonathan Cohn
3 min readDec 9, 2021


Since 2015, Saudi Arabia, with US backing, has had an all-assault on Yemen after Houthi rebels took over the government.

The result has been a humanitarian catastrophe, with the UN detailing horrific levels of suffering:

In December 2020, it reported that the conflict had caused an estimated 233,000 deaths, including 131,000 from indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded as a direct result of the fighting, including more than 10,000 children.


Four million people have been forced to flee their homes and more than 20.7 million — 71% of the population — are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance or protection for their survival.

They include 5 million who the UN says are on the brink of famine, and almost 50,000 who are already experiencing famine-like conditions.

The Obama administration was supportive of Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration was perhaps even more so. But earlier this year, the Biden administration put a freeze on support for “offensive operations” in Yemen.

This, however, creates a wide loophole regarding the definition of “offensive.” And the administration has already begun doing this, approving a new $650 million weapons contract with Saudi Arabia.

Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mike Lee (R-UT) filed a resolution to block this weapons sale.

On Tuesday evening, the motion to discharge that resolution (i.e., to take it out of committee and onto the floor) failed 30 to 67.

28 members of the Democratic caucus supported the resolution, as did 2 Republicans:

Opposed were 21 members of the Democratic caucus and 46 Republicans. (1 Democrat and 2 Republicans were absent). It is especially striking how the majority of the Democratic caucus sided against President Joe Biden, and his weapons deal only survived because of overwhelming Republican support.

When Trump was president, Democrats were much more critical of the US’’s support for Saudi Arabia. In 2018, Sanders and Paul — along with Chris Murphy (D-CT), who sided with defense contractors on this amendment — introduced a resolution to end all US support for the Saudi war effort. It was defeated 55 to 45, with only 10 Democrats and 45 Republicans voting to defeat it.

The Democrats who supported that resolution but backed Biden’s weapons deal were Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Shaheen (D-NH), and Mark Warner (D-VA).

However, the 30 senators opposed to the arms sale was greater than the 27 opposed to a similar deal back in September 2016.

Of those 27, 17 of them remained in the Senate and remained opponents: Baldwin, Booker, Cantwell, Durbin, Gillibrand, Heinrich, Hirono, Lee, Markey, Murray, Paul, Sanders, Schatz, Stabenow, Tester, Warren, and Wyden.

Blumenthal, Klobuchar, and Murphy flipped from being arms deal critics into arms deal backers.

Of the 7 other arms deal opponents from 2016, four of them were replaced by people who were still opponents: Barbara Boxer being replaced (after Harris) by Alex Padilla, Al Franken by Tina Smith, Mark Kirk by Tammy Duckworth, and Tom Udall by Ben Lujan. Although both Harry Reid and Dean Heller were opposed to the arms deal in 2016, their Nevada counterparts today of Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen backed the deal. Pat Leahy, who had been an opponent, was absent.



Jonathan Cohn

Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.