It has been a busy year, so maybe you haven’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in Yemen.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and the government of Saudi Arabia has been bombing and starving its people for about three years now, resulting in the slow deaths of tens of thousands of children under the age of five. It’s on the cusp of the worst famine the world has seen in a century, according to the United Nations.
If that weren’t bad enough, we here in the United States share some of that blame. Saudi Arabia is an ally of ours, and as such, we have been supplying it with weapons and support, even refueling the planes as they go about dropping bombs on a poor, hungry nation.
So a couple of weeks ago, a bloc of United States senators got together and voted to allow debate on the issue -- literally just to sanction discussion about whether helping decimate Yemen might be a bad path for the Land of the Free to follow.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee was working on the agricultural spending bill and decided to toss in one more provision: a rule forbidding the House from voting to end the country’s military support for the war in Yemen before the end of this year.
That, to you, may seem like a bit of a red flag. Something, at the very least, to investigate before voting for the ag bill wholesale. About 18 Republican House members and an overwhelming share of House Democrats would agree with you, and they shot it down. That alone should have been enough to take the Yemen provision out of the farm bill entirely.
Except the bill still passed 206-203, because five Democrats voted for it anyway. One of them was Minnesota’s own Collin Peterson, a Blue Dog Democrat hailing from Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, which covers almost the entire western half of the state. Coincidentally, he just won his seat again against Trumpian Republican Dave Hughes.
Jeff Stein, a reporter for the Washington Post, asked him about his vote. Stein put the transcript of that conversation on Twitter, which reads as follows:
Stein: Can you explain your vote on the Yemen resolution?
Peterson: Yeah. It didn’t belong in there.
Stein: Why not? Couldn’t you just have come back and done another vote?
Peterson: No - we’ve worked for two years on this farm bill, and I’ll be damned if I let anybody screw it up.
Stein: Do you have any thoughts about the war in Yemen?
Peterson: I don’t know a damn thing about it, and it should be in there and it -- it didn’t do anything anyway.
Stein: What do you mean by that?
Peterson: All it did was say they couldn’t have a vote or something. Didn’t authorize anything, it didn’t -- you know. Our party gets off on tangents. It’s ridiculous.
Full transcript below. Some estimates say more than 50,000 civilians have died in Yemen pic.twitter.com/rR2ezICtv2— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) December 12, 2018
Peterson didn’t respond to interview requests, so we don’t know much more than that. Maybe he didn’t think Yemen had anything to do with his mostly white and rural constituents in District 7, and therefore didn’t matter. Maybe he was determined to keep his Blue Dog reputation for going against the Democratic party line. Maybe, and perhaps most frightening of all, he just couldn’t be bothered to learn what he was voting for.