US lawmakers slam Biden for launching Houthi strikes without backing from Congress

Some Democrats have lashed out at the president for ‘neglecting’ his constitutional responsibilities – but several senior Republicans have voiced support for military action to protect Red Sea shipping routes

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 12 January 2024 10:56 GMT
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US military jets take off to conduct strikes against military targets in Yemen

President Joe Biden has come under fire from some lawmakers for failing to consult Congress before the US, together with the UK, carried out scores of airstrikes against Houthi rebel fighters in Yemen in retaliation against attacks in the Red Sea.

Massive explosions were seen in Yemeni cities, including Sanaa and Hodeidah, in the early hours of Friday morning, with the US military saying 60 strikes were launched against 16 sites linked to the Houthis’ military operations.

The US launched Operation Prosperity Guardian three weeks ago, a concerted effort to safeguard shipping along one of the world’s most vital waterways for international trade.

President Biden said in a statement on Thursday night: “These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea — including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history.

“These attacks have endangered US personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardised trade, and threatened freedom of navigation.”

He noted that ships from 50 different nations had been affected in 27 recent attacks on commercial shipping along the route, with crews from 20 nations threatened or taken hostage by pirates and more than 2,000 freighters forced to change course.

He continued: “These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes. I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

But his actions have already drawn “Hands off Yemen” protesters to the White House and Times Square in New York City and attracted immediate criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

Mr Biden’s fellow Democrats Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Barbara Lee, Mark Pocan and Val Hoyle have voiced objections to the president’s alleged failure to honour his constitutional obligations to brief the House and Senate before he took action.

“This is an unacceptable violation of the Constitution,” Ms Jayapal wrote on X. “Article I requires that military action be authorised by Congress.”

Mr Khanna cited the same article in his own post, declaring: “The President needs to come to Congress before launching a strike against the Houthis in Yemen and involving us in another middle east conflict.

“That is Article I of the Constitution. I will stand up for that regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is in the White House.”

While both are correct, Article II of the Constitution also empowers the president, as commander-in-chief, to direct the use of military force to protect the nation from an attack or threat of imminent attack and to protect important national interests.

For example, this rule was used by his predecessor Donald Trump to justify the ordering of the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani without forewarning Congress back in January 2020.

Both Ms Tlaib and Ms Bush warned the president that the American people has no desire to see its tax dollars spent on “endless war”, with the latter adding that she considers the airstrikes “illegal”. “Stop the bombing and do better by us,” she said to Mr Biden.

Less surprisingly, a number of Republicans also joined in attacking the president, with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mike Lee, Matt Gaetz, Nancy Mace and Thomas Massie all speaking out.

Characteristically, Ms Greene wasted little time in pivoting to hysteria and conspiracy theorising, writing on X: “Biden can not solely decide to bomb Yemen. And what is the condition of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin? Is he still laid up in the hospital?

“Biden admin wants to fund war in Ukraine, control the war in Israel, arm Taiwan and prep for war with China, and is now going to war in the Middle East??? All with a wide open border, millions invading, and millions of got aways?! This is insanely out of control!”

Mr Lee meanwhile expressed his agreement with Mr Khanna, adding: “The Constitution matters, regardless of party affiliation.”

Ms Mace also called for bipartisan unity, writing: “This is where we should put party aside and stand for the oath we all took: Congress alone decides if we go to war. I join my colleagues on both sides insisting we follow the Constitution.”

But several senior Republicans praised the president’s actions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Mike Johnson have both welcomed the move against the rebels, as have GOP Senators Tom Cotton, Roger Wicker, Todd Young and Susan Collins.

This article was amended on the day of publication. It had previously inaccurately included Jason Crow in a list of Democrats who had criticised Joe Biden for not briefing the House and Senate before taking action.

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