Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Photo: Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP via Getty

The Trump administration is facing a revolt on Capitol Hill over Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's last-minute decision to designate Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terror group despite concerns the move will exacerbate the world's most dire humanitarian crisis.

Behind the scenes: A call the State Department held this morning to brief House and Senate committee staff on the Yemen move devolved into a shouting match and left staffers from both parties shocked by the apparent lack of a plan to ensure that food and aid continue to reach Yemeni civilians, millions of whom are already on the verge of famine.

What they're saying: “People on both sides of the aisle felt very frustrated that this was done in such a haphazard way. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but this could kill people," one congressional aide briefed on the call told Axios.

  • “The staff on both sides were just flabbergasted that some basic questions on how we were going to protect the people of Yemen were not answered. It almost felt as though they weren’t planning to answer it. I don’t want to say they don’t care, but it was just very troubling," the aide adds, noting that the briefers also struggled to provide a national security rationale for the move.
  • At one point on the call, briefers from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) acknowledged that the policy could result in a loss of life, according to the aide.
  • "I don't know if it’s the fact that it’s the transition and folks have left, or if they are just desperately trying to push things across before Jan. 20. It just seemed like there was a lack of preparedness on both of these issues," the aide said, referring also to the Trump administration's decision to label Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, which was discussed on the call as well.

The big picture: The major announcements on Yemen and Cuba, as well as a recent policy shift on relations with Taiwan, are all jarring moves in the final days of an outgoing administration, particularly as the president himself seems to have largely disengaged from foreign policy.

  • The administration, and in particular Pompeo, have made little secret of the fact that they are trying to tie President-elect Biden's hands, in particular when it comes to policies toward the Houthis' main patron: Iran.
  • The Houthis ousted the Yemeni government in 2014 and still control large swaths of the country after six years of war with a Saudi-led coalition. The people of Yemen are facing what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian disaster, with 80% of the population lacking sufficient food or clean water and millions on the brink of famine.

Humanitarian groups active in Yemen have been pleading for months with the Trump administration not to take the step Pompeo announced today, arguing it would force them to either curtail the aid and services they provide or risk potential U.S. prosecution.

  • Oxfam said in a statement Monday that the move would "block U.S. humanitarian aid, goods, and personnel from entering northern Yemen, where 70% of the population lives, and substantially reduce them throughout the rest of the country," seriously hampering efforts to fight hunger, cholera and COVID-19.
  • David Miliband, the CEO of the International Rescue Committee, called Pompeo's step an act of "pure diplomatic vandalism" that would make crucial work in Houthi-held areas "all but impossible" and ultimately cause unnecessary deaths.

Today's briefing from the State Department appears to have done little to assuage those concerns. Multiple members of Congress have already released statements opposing the move and calling on Biden to reverse it.

  • Rep. Michael McCaul and Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees respectively, issued a joint statement warning that the designation will have a "devastating effect" on Yemen's food supply if not accompanied by "the necessary licenses, waivers and appropriate guidance."
  • A State Department spokesperson said State would not comment on "internal deliberations or our conversations with Congress." A USAID spokesperson directed Axios to the State Department.

Go deeper

Jan 19, 2021 - World

Special report: Trump's U.S.-China transformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump began his term by launching the trade war with China he had promised on the campaign trail. By mid-2020, however, Trump was no longer the public face of China policy-making as he became increasingly consumed with domestic troubles, giving his top aides carte blanche to pursue a cascade of tough-on-China policies.

Why it matters: Trump alone did not reshape the China relationship. But his trade war shattered global norms, paving the way for administration officials to pursue policies that just a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.

42 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!