After Multiple U.S. Attacks on Houthi Targets, Some Senators Are Questioning Legality of Strikes Without Congressional Approval

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Navy shot down two missiles launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in the Gulf of Aden. The interception follows multiple U.S. military attacks on Houthi targets, weeks of escalation in and around the Red Sea and multiple attempted Houthi-attacks on commercial shipping vessels. 

The recent escalation is raising questions in Washington about how far the Biden Administration can go.

A bipartisan group of Senators are now questioning President Biden’s legal authority to continue to authorize U.S. strikes on Houthi rebels without Congressional approval. In a joint letter to President Biden, Senators Tim Kaine (D- VA), Todd Young (R- IN), Chris Murphy (D- CT), Mike Lee (R- UT) said: 

“While the Houthis and their backers, namely Iran, bear the responsibility for escalation, unless there is a need to repel a sudden attack the Constitution requires that the United States not engage in military action absent a favorable vote of Congress. We have long advocated for deliberate congressional processes in and authorizations for decisions that put servicemembers into harm’s way overseas. There is no current congressional authorization for offensive U.S. military action against the Houthis.” 

In recent decades, presidents from both parties have exercised latitude in carrying out military exercises against hostile actors to prevent further escalation. 

Experts say it’s a bit of a gray area in today’s military age. 

“The really interesting thing is that the War Powers Act, which was passed in response to the Vietnam War and the protraction of the Vietnam War into other countries, is sort of a dead letter. It doesn’t really give too much power to Congress unless they want to cut funding for the military, and that’s just not something you want to do when the military is in action,” said Dr. Todd Belt, Professor and Director of the Political Management Program at George Washington University. 

“This rule, it really is something that might constrain what presidents do a little bit. But in the age of guided weaponry and instead of having boots on the ground, it’s really not clear that this provides any sort of deterrent for presidents to use force,” said Belt. 

Today’s interception by the U.S. Navy comes after the eighth round of attacks by the U.S. military on Houthi targets in less than two weeks.