The vote handed a victory to the White House for its policy of continuing to back Saudi Arabia.
The vote was 53 to 45, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, despite a handful of Trump’s fellow Republicans joining Democrats in backing the War Powers Resolution.
It was only the second veto of Trump’s presidency, both this year. Neither piece of legislation garnered the two-thirds support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives needed to override the veto.
The resolution’s passage earlier this year marked the first time both the Senate and House supported the provision of the War Powers Act limiting the president’s ability to send troops into action without congressional authorization.
Backers of the resolution said they wanted to reassert Congress’s constitutional power to declare war, and send a strong message to Saudi Arabia about the devastating civilian toll of the four-year-long civil war in Yemen.
“We’ve been materially assisting a foreign power in its efforts to bomb its adversaries. And sometimes helping that foreign power to bomb innocent civilians on the ground in the process,” Republican Senator Mike Lee, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said before the vote.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination and was a sponsor of the resolution that passed Congress, framed Thursday’s veto vote as a life or death issue.
“We can save thousands upon thousands of people if we override Donald Trump’s veto,” he tweeted shortly before the vote.
Congress increasingly frustrated
The war in Yemen, which pits Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Houthi rebels backed by Iran, has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned what the United Nations calls the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis, with the country on the brink of famine.
Many members of Congress have also become increasingly frustrated with Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, anger fueled by the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last year.
Saudi officials have rejected accusations that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the killing, despite a conclusion by US intelligence that MBS was complicit in the journalist’s murder.
The resolution’s opponents argued that support for the Saudi-UAE coalition was not an appropriate use of the War Powers Act, because the military provides supports such as targeting assistance, not troops.
“The premise of this resolution is fundamentally flawed and I believe a misrepresentation of what is happening on the ground in Yemen,” Republican Senator Jim Risch said before the vote.
Risch, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is writing legislation to address the situation with Saudi Arabia.
He declined to discuss possible specific provisions of the measure, but said he hoped to introduce it in May with the goal of finding something that could pass both the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House and be signed, not vetoed, by Trump.
Amid US and international anger over the civilian toll of the Yemen conflict, the Trump administration last year stopped providing refuelling support for Saudi aircraft in Yemen.