Florida U.S. Rep. Al Lawson takes heat for voting to cut off debate over Yemen human rights catastrophe

MSNBC screenshot
MSNBC screenshot

Florida U.S. Rep. Al Lawson is coming under fire for being one of a handful of Congressional Democrats who voted this week for a stealthy measure that killed any hopes of a U.S. House debate on possibly ending American military support for Saudi Arabia’s ongoing war in Yemen.

Lawson’s vote on a procedural rule attached to the national Farm Bill was critical, as he was one of just five Democrats in the House of Representatives to support the Republican-led measure. It only passed by three votes. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan had inserted language into the rule preventing U.S. representatives from taking up any resolution to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen this year.

The U.S. Senate, however, did vote on Thursday to end U.S. support for the Saudi-Yemen war, with Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio against pulling American military aid to the Saudis.

Outrage on both sides of the political aisle regarding U.S. support for Saudi air strikes in Yemen has been building for months. The conflict has caused a stunning humanitarian crisis, with at least 17,000 civilians killed and two million displaced since March of 2015, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

185 Democrats and 18 Republicans voted against the rule, including Kentucky U.S. Rep.Thomas Massey, who called Ryan’s procedural move “despicable.”

In a statement, Lawson acknowledged his vote would quell debate on U.S. support for Saudi involvement in Yemen, but said it was Congress’ last chance before the end of the year to provide relief to farmers and their families through the Farm Bill.

“It is unfortunate that my Republican colleagues played political games by attaching a measure as serious as the humanitarian crisis occurring in Yemen to the Farm Bill,” he said in a statement. “The resolution, which uses the War Powers Act, is not the end of this critical conversation. It is vital that we have a full discussion in the next Congress on the crisis and work toward a reasonable solution that I hope will bring an end to the atrocities taking place in Yemen.”

Democrats in Florida and nationally condemned Lawson for being part of the group siding with the GOP on the vote.

Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Stacey Patel wrote on Facebook that the five Democrats “should be deeply ashamed of their actions, and scared of the repercussions of their cowardice and complicity with the starvation and killing of countless Yemeni children.”

“History will not look kindly on those who abdicated their constitutional duty to debate and vote our nation’s wars in the name of petty politics and shoring up future campaign contributions from the arms industry and pro-Saudi lobbyists,” said Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs for Peace Action.

Lawson was recently reelected to Florida’s 5th Congressional District in November. The district covers all or parts of eight north Florida counties, spanning from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.

Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council advisor to President Obama, issued a tweet on Wednesday asking if there was any desire to run primary opponents against “some Democrats who voted to continue slaughtering civilians in Yemen,” listing Lawson and the other four Democrats who joined with the Republicans on the vote.

One group that immediately responded to Vietor was Justice Democrats, a political action committee that supported progressive challengers to Democratic incumbents this year.

“Primaries are one effective tool Democrats can use to hold their representatives accountable and we encourage anyone in the district to get involved or nominate a challenger through our website,” spokesman Waleed Shahid told the Phoenix.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown lost to Lawson in a bitterly contested Democratic primary in August. Brown was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

The calls to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia have intensified over the past month, after U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October.



Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.



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