US Congress split on Biden's strikes on Houthis

Progressives say US President acted unlawfully by circumventing Congress to strike Iranian-backed group in Yemen

Progressives said President Joe Biden acted unlawfully by authorising strikes against the Houthis in Yemen without congressional approval. Reuters
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President Joe Biden received rare praise from Republican leadership after he authorised strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen, although members of his own Democratic Party condemned the decision as unlawful.

US and UK forces carried out more than a dozen strikes on sites held by the Yemeni rebel group overnight, with Mr Biden saying they were in response to Houthi attacks against ships in the Red Sea.

The US, UK and other nations said the strikes in Yemen were intended to “disrupt and degrade” Houthi capabilities to threaten global trade.

The Houthis, who are allied to Palestinian militant group Hamas, have said their attacks on Red Sea shipping are in response to Israel's ongoing siege of Gaza.

The Biden-authorised strikes were the latest escalatory moment in the Israel-Gaza war that threatens to spill over into the region.

The reaction to the strikes in Congress has been split, with some praising Mr Biden's intervention while others say the action was unlawful.

Most Republicans lauded Mr Biden's actions and said the strikes were “overdue”.

“We must hope these operations indicate a true shift in the Biden administration’s approach to Iran and its proxies that are engaging in such evil and wreaking such havoc,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement.

In a separate statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “To restore deterrence and change Iran’s calculus, Iranian leaders themselves must believe that they will pay a meaningful price unless they abandon their worldwide campaign of terror.”

“It's about time that we struck back,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul told Fox News.

Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement in support of Mr Biden's decision and said he looks forward to continue consulting with the White House, “as required by law”. He also encouraged Mr Biden in his efforts to prevent the conflict from spreading.

Progressives say strikes violated US Constitution

Progressive Democrats, however, have said his actions were unlawful.

US Representative Pramila Jayapal, who leads the influential Progressive Caucus, called the decision “an unacceptable violation of the Constitution”.

Representatives Ro Khanna, Cori Bush and others also made various statements arguing the action violated Article 1 of the Constitution.

The much-debated Article 1 states Congress has the “power … to declare war”.

It also says that “no state shall, without the consent of Congress … enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power, or engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay”.

Calling the strike a breach of the Constitution, Mr Khanna posted on X saying: “The President needs to come to Congress before launching a strike against the Houthis in Yemen and involving us in another middle east conflict.”

Republican Senator Mike Lee agreed with Mr Khanna.

“The Constitution matters, regardless of party affiliation,” he said in a post on X.

The overnight strikes were not the first time a US president has carried out military action without congressional approval, leading to questions over whether such moves protect the US or not.

Mr Biden previously circumvented congressional approval last year when he directed the Defence Department to conduct air strikes in eastern Syria in response to a deadly Iranian drone strike.

Similarly, his two predecessors launched attacks without authorisation from Congress.

Donald Trump faced similar questions after he authorised the 2020 assassination of Iran's Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani. Mr Trump justified the attack by citing the 2002 Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), as well as his authority to defer US national security.

And in authorising an air strike against Libya in 2011, Barack Obama said such military action was in the national interest.

Updated: January 12, 2024, 5:59 PM