“Today I stand up for the thousands of civilians who are being killed in Yemen,” Mr. Paul said on the Senate floor before the vote. “Today I stand for the millions of voiceless children in Yemen who will be killed by the Saudi blockade. Today I stand up for saying we, the United States, should no longer be fueling the arms race in the Middle East. It’s come to no good.”
Trump administration officials spent the hours before the vote frantically making phone calls and holding briefings with lawmakers to stave off a defeat, which would have been the first time in decades that a congressional body summarily rejected a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. Last year, the Senate rejected a proposal to block a similar arms sale to Saudi Arabia, valued at $1.15 billion, by a much larger margin, 71 to 26.
Administration officials warned beforehand that the outlook was bleak; Mr. Schumer’s announcement, in particular, had them worried that he had given political cover to Democrats who wanted to send a signal to Mr. Trump.
“Nearly half of the U.S. Senate sent an overwhelmingly clear message to Riyadh that if it wants to return to a time of unequivocal U.S. support, it needs to stop killing civilians in Yemen,” said Andrea Prasow, the deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “The Trump administration should take notice and use this statement as an opportunity to press the Saudis to change their behavior in Yemen — to focus on protecting civilians, and to be transparent about its conduct in this devastating war.”
Yemen’s conflict began in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from the country’s north allied with rogue army units and stormed the capital, Sana, pushing the internationally recognized government into exile. In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition that has been bombing the rebels, seeking to dislodge them from the capital and restore the government.
All of the factions involved have been accused of war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas and the recruitment of child soldiers. The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed, and much of the country is short of food.
Human rights organizations have sharply criticized American support for the Saudi-led bombing in Yemen.
The Trump administration has notified Congress that it plans to soon begin delivering precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia under a separate 2015 weapons deal, congressional officials said.