Editorials

Jim Costa’s unconscionable Yemen votes

Fresno Democratic Congressman Jim Costa has voted twice for a measure preventing Congress from withdrawing aid for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, where an estimated 85,000 children under the age of 5 have starved to death since 2015.
Fresno Democratic Congressman Jim Costa has voted twice for a measure preventing Congress from withdrawing aid for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, where an estimated 85,000 children under the age of 5 have starved to death since 2015. AP

“The atrocities occurring there are unconscionable.”

That’s Fresno Democratic Congressman Jim Costa’s take on Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which has killed an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five through starvation since 2015. But unconscionable atrocities have not stopped Costa from voting to bolster the Saudi regime’s genocidal war against its impoverished neighbor.

As McClatchy DC reporter Kate Irby writes, “Costa is one of two House Democrats to vote with Republicans twice in recent weeks to block efforts to cut military assistance to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.”

In the first vote, Costa supported a version of the Manage Our Wolves Act that contained a provision to prevent Congress from withdrawing aid from the Yemen war.

Last week, he and four other Democrats joined Republicans to pass a farm bill with a similar provision. As a result, the US military will continue to aid and abet Saudi Arabia’s murderous war until at least January, when the House reconvenes under Democratic rule.

Why is the congressman voting against his conscience? The simple reason might be cash. “Costa received $100,000 from oil and gas companies in the last campaign cycle and $500,000 from the industry over his congressional career,” according to Irby’s reporting. Oil companies want to keep the oil-rich Saudis happy, which means preserving US military assistance for the Yemen war.

Costa rejects this explanation. Instead, he says Republicans forced his hand by tucking the issue into the farm bill, which provides farm subsidies and food assistance for Americans.

“The farm bill provides a critical range of programs … 25 percent of my constituency, because of food insecurity, relies on food stamps,” said Costa, who claims he only voted yes for “procedural” reasons.

Normally, we would expect a congressman from the Central Valley to support a bill that helps feed constituents. But when the bill props up Saudi efforts to starve children and push 14 million people to the brink of famine, we expect him to stand up for basic human decency and morality.

How many people in the Central Valley support spending millions of taxpayer dollars to help the Saudis starve children in a country 8,000 miles away?

“I was disappointed that Jim Costa did not vote against this flawed rule,” said Congressman Ro Khanna, who has led efforts to revoke US military support for the Yemen war. “He could have voted to defeat the rule and still have voted for a new farm bill. Sometimes, we don’t realize the gravity of our responsibility in Congress. As a result of the House’s inaction, thousands more Yemeni children may die.”

Khanna is right. Republicans in Congress care too much about the farm bill to let it fail. Their own constituents rely on it for survival. Costa could have taken a principled stand and refused to vote yes unless they cut the Yemen provision.

After all, Republicans needed Democratic votes because several members of their own party refused to support the immoral legislative maneuver.

In any case, food stamps and farm subsidies for Fresno don’t explain why Costa voted for the Yemen provision when it was tucked into the wolf bill. We haven’t had wolves in the valley for 100 years.

There are, however, plenty of wolves in Washington. They wear suits and cut checks to politicians with flexible consciences and an ability to overlook the occasional atrocity.

Did they find their man in Costa? Time may tell.

The congressman says he will speak out against Saudi atrocities in Yemen “next month when we have real checks and balances and a real possibility to discuss this.”

You can hold him accountable to this promise by calling his California office at (559) 495-1620.

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