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'Unconstitutional': Biden criticised for bypassing Congress with Yemen strikes

President Joe Biden has come under fire from lawmakers for failing to consult Congress before the US, together with the UK, carried out strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen
Supporters of Palestine hold a rally in the Bay Ridge neighborhood on 21 October 2023 in the Brooklyn borough in New York City.
Supporters of Palestine hold a rally in Bay Ridge neighbourhood of Brooklyn in New York City, on 21 October 2023 (Spencer Platt/ Getty images via AFP)

US President Joe Biden has faced a barrage of criticism from lawmakers over his decision to launch air strikes, together with the UK, against Houthi targets in Yemen without congressional approval.

Biden announced late on Thursday that the US and the UK, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands had launched a series of air and naval strikes on more than a dozen sites in Yemen in response to attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea region.

Several cities across the war-ravaged country were hit - including the capital Sanaa, the western port city of Hodeidah, the Houthi stronghold of Saada, and the southwestern city of Dhamar.

The strikes were met with immediate condemnation from progressive lawmakers who said the raids violated the Constitution because Biden did not seek congressional approval.

Rashida Tlaib, the sole Palestinian-American member of US Congress, said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that Biden was "violating Article I of the Constitution by carrying out airstrikes in Yemen without congressional approval."

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"The American people are tired of endless war."

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and the chair of the Progressive Caucus, echoed Tlaib message, calling the strikes an "unacceptable violation of the constitution."

"Article 1 requires that military action be authorized by Congress," she wrote on X.

Article One of the Constitution states that Congress has the power to declare war. Despite Congress holding this authority, previous presidents have often conducted military strikes in the Middle East without seeking the legislative branch's approval. Instead, they relied on a number of other laws, such as the multiple authorisations for the use of military force (AUMFs).

The swift condemnation from lawmakers was echoed by immediate protests in Washington and New York. Demonstrators were seen outside the White House on Thursday evening, chanting "Let Yemen live" and "Hands off Yemen".

'Congress refuses to assert its authority'

The US and the UK have since said the strikes were conducted in self-defence and in response to the Houthi movement targeting shipping vessels in the Red Sea.

The Houthis say they have been targeting Israeli-linked vessels passing through the Red Sea, a vital shipping route, in protest against Israel's war in Gaza.

A Houthi spokesperson said on Friday that there "is no justification for the attacks".

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Reacting to calls by Saudi Arabia for restraint and "avoiding escalation" in light of the US-led air strikes, Congressman Ro Khanna, who has also led a years-long campaign in Washington to stop American support for Saudi Arabia's devastating military offensive in Yemen, said: "If you had told me on January 20 2021 that Biden would be ordering military strikes on the Houthis without congressional approval while the Saudis would be calling for restraint and de-escalation in Yemen, I would never have believed it."

Outside of the progressive Democrats, other lawmakers joined in the opposition to the air strikes, including Democrat Ro Khanna, Republican Congressman Thomas Massie, and Republican Senator Rand Paul. 

Many of the lawmakers who opposed the strikes have previously signed legislation seeking to end measures giving the president extended authority to wage war abroad, including during the Donald Trump administration when lawmakers passed a War Powers resolution specifically for Yemen.

"The United States has been involved in hostilities in Yemen, in one form or another, for over 5 years now. The sad reality is Congress frequently refuses to assert its authority," Massie said on X.

Some of Congress' top brass, however, came out in support of the strike against the Houthis.

"This action by US and British forces is long overdue... (Iran and its proxies) must understand there is a serious price to pay for their global acts of terror and their attacks on US personnel and commercial vessels," House speaker Mike Johnson said.

The top Democrats in both the Senate and House Foreign Relations committees also expressed support for the military intervention.

"I support President Biden's decision to take precise action against these increasingly dangerous provocations that have threatened the interests of the US and our allies, and welcome our coalition partners taking these actions with us," said Ben Cardin, chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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