Clashes in the Middle East are reviving the clash between the president and Congress over war powers

(Morry Gash/Associated Press)

Clashes in the Middle East are reviving the clash between the president and Congress over war powers



March 15, 2024

This week marked a key deadline under the half-century-old War Powers Resolution for President Biden to obtain congressional approval to continue his military campaign against Yemen’s Houthis, consistent with his sole authority under the U.S. Constitution to to declare war and otherwise authorize military force.

It came and went in public silence, even from Senate Democrats frustrated that the Biden administration was blowing past some checkpoints that would give Congress more control over the United States’ increasing military involvement in the conflicts in the Middle East.

The Biden administration maintains that nothing in the War Powers Resolution, or other deadlines, guidelines and laws, requires it to suspend its military support for Israel’s five-month war in Gaza, or the two-month U.S. military attacks on the Houthis change. to submit to greater congressional oversight or control.

That left some frustrated Democrats in the Senate weighing how far to go in confronting a president of their own party over his military authority.

Democrats are wary of undermining Biden as he faces a difficult re-election campaign. Their ability to act is limited by their control of only one chamber, the Senate, where some Democrats and many Republicans support Biden’s military actions in the Middle East.

While Biden’s approach gives him more leeway in how he directs U.S. military involvement since Hamas’ Oct. 11, 2011, 7 attacks, there is a risk that a crisis will deepen if something goes seriously wrong.

James A. Siebens, leader of the Defense Strategy and Planning project at the Stimson Center in Washington, called it a latent constitutional crisis.

The conflicts in the Middle East have revived a longstanding clash between presidents, who are the commanders in chief, and Congress, which has the power to stop and start wars or to reduce the use of military force, and which controls its financing.

American and British warships, aircraft and drones opened attacks on Houthi targets in Yemen on January 11. Hundreds of American attacks followed. The US strikes are aimed at pushing back a wave of attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis, a clan-based movement that has taken control of much of northern Yemen, on international shipping in the Red Sea since the war between Israel and Hamas. began.

Biden formally notified Congress the next day. The administration has made efforts to frame the U.S. military campaign as defensive actions rather than hostilities covered by the War Powers Resolution.

The resolution gives presidents 60 days after they notify Congress that they have sent U.S. troops into an armed conflict, either to receive permission to continue fighting or to withdraw U.S. forces. That deadline was Tuesday.

The White House continues to maintain that the military actions are intended to defend U.S. forces and are not covered by the resolution’s 60-day provision.

Congress pushed through the War Powers Resolution in 1973 over a presidential veto and took strong action as president to regain his authority over America’s wars abroad


Nixon expanded the war in Vietnam.

Since then, presidents have often argued that U.S. involvement in conflict does not amount to hostilities or otherwise be covered by the resolution. If lawmakers don’t approve it, they can, among other things, pressure the executive branch to authorize military force, generally try to get Congress to formally order the president to withdraw, withhold funding, or strengthen congressional oversight.

For Yemen,


Senator Chris Murphy


is considering introducing legislation within weeks that would authorize the U.S. campaign against the Houthis within established time, geographic and scope limits. The plan has not previously been announced.

Murphy and other Democrats in Congress have raised concerns about the effectiveness of U.S. attacks on the Houthis, the risk of further regional escalation and the lack of clarity about the administration’s endgame. They have asked why the administration sees it as the U.S. military’s mission to protect a global shipping lane.

These are hostilities.” There is no congressional authorization for them, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on obtaining congressional authorization for U.S. attacks on the Houthis. And it’s not even close.”

Asked this week what happens now that the 60 days are up, Kaine said it would be premature for Congress to consider approving U.S. action against the Houthis without understanding the strategy.

Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had no such misgivings.

I believe the president has all the power he needs under the Constitution to do what he is doing in Yemen, Risch said this week.

But it is Gaza, and the rising death toll among Palestinian civilians, that has sparked most of the congressional protests. The war between Israel and Hamas also has a much more prominent profile in American domestic politics. While many Americans are firmly opposed to any cuts in military aid to Israel, a growing number of Democrats have begun withholding votes from Biden in the presidential election to demand more U.S. action for the trapped people in Gaza.

Some in Congress were frustrated early in the war that the administration sidestepped congressional review to provide additional military aid to Israel as quickly as possible by declaring a national security emergency.

A presidential order negotiated with Senate Democrats requires Israel to declare in writing by March 25 that it will adhere to international law in using US weapons in Gaza and that it will not impede humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians or face a possible cut in US military aid.

The United Nations has said Israeli restrictions are preventing many aid trucks from entering Gaza. The US began airdrops this month and is working on a sea route to bring more food and other essential goods into the area.

Some in Congress are urging the administration to cut military aid now, under existing federal law that requires countries that receive U.S. military assistance to use it in accordance with international law, including through humanitarian access to allow civilians in conflict.

A group of Senate Democrats and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote to Biden this week saying it was already clear that Israel was obstructing humanitarian aid to Gaza. They urged him to immediately cut military aid in the absence of a reversal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government under existing US foreign aid laws.

“I am still baffled that the government has not acted,” he said

Democrat from Maryland

Chris Van Hollen


one of the senators pushing this point the hardest.

Knickmeyer writes for the Associated Press. AP writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.


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