In a contentious move that has ignited a constitutional debate, certain members of the US Congress are asserting that President Joe Biden breached constitutional boundaries by greenlighting overnight strikes on Yemen.
Legal Perspectives on Presidential Authority
Contrary to the allegations, legal experts contend that provisions within US law grant the White House the power to initiate limited foreign military actions.
Michael O’Hanlon, Director of Research in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, asserts that there is insufficient basis to prevent Biden from taking such actions.
Yemen Strikes Unveiled
In a swift response to months of Houthi forces’ attacks on Red Sea shipping, US and British warplanes, ships, and submarines launched numerous airstrikes across Yemen.
The Biden administration informed Congress of the impending strikes but refrained from seeking formal approval.
Constitutional Clash: Article 1 vs. Article 2
Progressive Democrats critical of Biden cite Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, emphasizing that Congress, not the president, is constitutionally mandated to authorize war.
However, supporters argue that Article 2 designates the president as the commander-in-chief, empowering him to deploy military force for defensive purposes without congressional approval.
Defensive Justification for Strikes
Advocates for Biden’s decision contend that the strikes serve defensive purposes, including responding to attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria, as well as safeguarding commercial ships in the Red Sea.
Limiting Presidential Authority
War Powers Resolution and Legal Constraints
In addition to constitutional provisions, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 regulates the use of force, aiming to curb presidential power.
This resolution mandates the termination of military actions without a declaration of war or specific legal authority within 60 days.
It also requires the president to promptly provide Congress with a detailed report following an attack.
Long-Term Ramifications and Congressional Response
Legal and security policy experts predict that the future response will hinge on developments on the ground.
Potential repercussions are deemed less likely if the conflict with the Houthis remains contained, and the administration consistently informs Congress.
Brian Finucane, a former State Department lawyer and senior adviser to the Crisis Group’s U.S. program, noted, “I think it’s too early to gauge the extent of the pushback from Congress on this.”
Congressional Authority and Historical Precedents
Experts underscore that Congress possesses the ability to pass legislation limiting presidential powers, given the existing ambiguity in law.
In 2020, Congress exercised this authority by passing a resolution to curb then-President Donald Trump’s war powers after he ordered a strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
Historically, in 2011, then-President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes on Libya without seeking congressional approval, a decision he later labeled as his worst mistake.
While such actions led to Muammar Qaddafi’s overthrow, they also left Libya in a state of profound instability.