White House defends Houthi strikes amid questions from Congress

The White House on Wednesday defended President Joe Biden’s ordered strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen, saying the strikes are covered under the law.

“We are confident, after consultation with the Justice Department and interagency lawyers, that U.S. actions alongside coalition partners against Houthi targets are consistent with international and domestic law. We have explained that legal basis in various forms, including in public notifications to Congress consistent with the War Powers Resolution and in public letters to the UN Security Council,” an administration official told Scripps News.

A growing number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have questioned the president’s legal authority to conduct the strikes without authorization from Congress.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, joined by three other senators, sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday, questioning whether the U.S. is overstepping its authority by using military strikes to protect non-U.S. commercial vessels.

“Directing military action to defend U.S. personnel and military assets from attacks and imminent attacks is clearly within the boundaries of this presidential power,” the senators wrote. “It could also be argued that directing military action to defend U.S. commercial shipping is within this power. However, most vessels transiting through the Red Sea are not U.S. ships, which raises questions about the extent to which these authorities can be exercised. We support smart steps to defend U.S. personnel and assets, hold the Houthis accountable for their actions, and deter additional attacks. We further believe Congress must carefully deliberate before authorizing offensive military action.”

Iran-backed Houthis have attacked more than 30 shipping vessels since November, forcing many shipping companies to reroute vessels away from the Red Sea, agitating global supply chains.

A source familiar with the situation pointed to the Jan. 9 drone swarm on U.S. Naval ships that went beyond attacks on commercial vessels as justification for the administration’s self-defense claims.

Monday night, Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, in a recorded address, claimed an attack in the Gulf of Aden on the Ocean Jazz, a U.S.-flagged ship managed by Seabulk, a company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

So far, the U.S. has conducted eight rounds of airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.

In a Jan. 11 letter to Congress notifying lawmakers of the first strike, President Biden invoked his authority as Commander-in-Chief under Article II of the Constitution to defend U.S. citizens and assets.

White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby has said the strikes will go on for as long as they need to.

But President Biden admitted in an exchange with reporters that the strikes aren’t stopping the attacks in the Red Sea.

In their letter, the senators warned that “we are in the midst of an ongoing regional conflict that carries the risk of escalation” and argued that unless there is a need to respond to a sudden attack, “the Constitution requires that the United States not engage in military action absent a favorable vote of Congress.”