Yemen Crisis a Priority For Next House Foreign Affairs Chairman

  • Engel says Congress `can’t turn our heads and ignore’ conflict
  • North Korea, Russia relations also focus of New York Democrat

The U.S. role in a civil war that’s created a massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen will be a top focus of Rep. Eliot Engel when he becomes chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee next year.

Saudi forces backed by U.S. military aid have been helping quell a rebellion by Iran-supported Houthi, members of a Shiite Muslim tribe from the mountains of northern Yemen. “We want to know what’s really going on on the ground,’’ Engel (D-N.Y.) said in an interview.

The conflict that has produced 7,000 civilian deaths and left 1.8 million children acutely malnourished, according to United Nations estimates.

Congress can’t “turn our heads and ignore it,’’ he said. “There’s a crisis in Yemen, people are starving, people are dying and we’ve got to stop it.”

How Saudis, Allies Made Yemen a Humanitarian Crisis: QuickTake

Engel, 71, first elected to Congress in 1988, has been the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee for almost six years. A strong supporter of Israel, Engel opposed the Iran nuclear, then defended it against attempts by House Republicans to weaken it and criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.

The committee is known for its bipartisanship and Engel has worked well with ChairmanEd Royce ( R-Calif.), who didn’t seek re-election. The current Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) will become Foreign Affairs ranking minority-party member in the 116th Congress.

Hearings on Yemen next year will be part of a broader look at U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, Engel said.


“We are going to talk about U.S. policy in the region and let the chips fall where they may,’’ Engel told reporters. “Certainly the Saudi Arabian relationship with the United States, that’s certainly very important.”

The slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has prompted a serious examination in Congress of government policy toward Saudi Arabia, which for decades has been a staunch ally of the U.S.

Last week, the Senate voted 56-41 to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen. The measure ( S.J. Res. 54delivered a rebuke to Trump’s continued support for Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded orchestrated the killing.

By voice vote, the Senate also adopted a resolution (S.J. Res. 69) stating it believes the crown prince was ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Some senators said they intend to press in the next Congress for passage of legislation that would cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and impose sanctions on Khashoggi’s killers.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) who’s in line to be majority leader in the new Congress, urged House Republican leaders in a Dec. 17 letter to bring up both Senate-adopted resolutions. If they don’t, Hoyer said he would work with Engel and other lawmakers to advance a War Powers Resolution on Yemen.

While the rebels in Yemen “need to be stopped, they are Iran’s proxy,’’ Engel said. “I don’t think that you willy-nilly stop them and at the same time have all kinds of collateral damage where people are starving and there’s a humanitarian crisis.’’

The U.N. blames the Saudi-led coalition for creating the crisis by imposing a naval blockade on Yemen that has curtailed the flow of food and medical supplies. Already there are reports of fighting outside the port city of Hudaydah, where a truce had been declared last week to allow the import of food.


Engel said the committee will seek information about what Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed at their July summit in Helsinki, where the U.S. president voiced doubt about the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow meddled in the 2016 campaign to help his election as president.

“It’s several months since Helsinki, we still don’t know what Putin and the president talked about there,” Engel said. That could set up a clash between Trump and the House, once it’s controlled by Democrats in January, over giving Congress access to details of his diplomacy.

Engel said he also wants more information about the status of Trump’s efforts to pressure North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons and halt missile development.

“North Korea is something that concerns me, concerns members of the committee, because we don’t know what progress, if any, has been made.,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at; Bennett Roth at