Jan 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden takes heat from progressives on Houthi strikes

Rep. Ro Khanna. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

President Biden is under fire from some progressive members of Congress for not seeking congressional authorization before conducting airstrikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Why it matters: It's yet another gulf between Biden and the left flank on the administration's Middle East policy as the U.S. expands operations in the region in response to rising tensions sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.

Driving the news: The airstrikes, a joint U.S.-U.K. operation with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, were conducted by warshaps and submarines which launched precision-guided munitions in order to avoid civilian casualties, Axios' Barak Ravid reported.

  • Biden said in a statement the strikes were a response to "unprecedented Houthi attacks against international shipping vessels in the Red Sea — including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history."
  • Biden had been considering military action against the Houthis for weeks, but hesitated over concerns about drawing the U.S. further into the escalating regional conflict.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) was briefed on the strike in advance, a senior Hill aide told Axios.

What they're saying: "The Constitution requires that if there is not an imminent threat ... that he has to come to Congress," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in a CNN appearance, adding that he is concerned it could "draw us into a Middle East war."

  • Rep. Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.), in a statement to Axios, said he condemns the Houthi attacks but added: "Congress has an important, constitutionally mandated role in that process, and I strongly urge the Administration to respect that responsibility."
  • "The Constitution is clear: Congress has the sole authority to authorize military involvement in overseas conflicts," said Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Ore.) in a post on X.
  • Several libertarian-leaning Republicans, such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), offered similar criticisms.

The other side: Biden received plaudits from more moderate or establishment lawmakers in both parties, and some progressives said they are comfortable with the legality of the strikes.

  • "Look, I think it's always good to have Congress involved. I think the president acted within his authority," said Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), adding that he expects lawmakers to be "briefed in the next day or two."
  • "I think it's important for us to reserve additional comments until we actually see the scope of what happened, because we actually have little information about what happened," Garcia added.
  • Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.) said in a statement he stands "firmly behind President Biden's decisive actions," adding that the Houthi attacks are "threatening the safety of U.S. personnel and our global allies."

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