President Joe Biden’s decision to launch airstrikes against Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen in response to their attacks on international shipping drew bipartisan pushback in Congress, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle demanding he first seek approval amid fears of a broader war escalating in the Middle East.

“The Constitution requires that if there is not an imminent threat of self-defense, that he has to come to Congress,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told CNN on Thursday.

“This has been going on since December. He has assembled an entire international coalition. He certainly should have come to Congress so we can discuss whether this could put American troops at risk,” he added.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) called the airstrikes “an unacceptable violation of the Constitution.”

“If there was time to put together an international coalition, there should have been time to come to us and ask for permission, especially given the volatile situation in the Middle East,” she told reporters on Friday.

“The United States has been involved in hostilities in Yemen, in one form or another, for over five years now. The sad reality is Congress frequently refuses to assert its authority,” added Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).

The Houthis have launched scores of drones and missiles at commercial ships in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s military campaign on Gaza, which followed Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel last year. Many of the missiles have been intercepted and shot down by the U.S. Navy as part of an international coalition formed by the U.S. to protect navigation in the area.

Biden’s administration views the strike as a “defensive” way to pressure the Houthis to end the attacks against commercial vessels and protect global trade.

“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea — including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday. “These attacks have endangered U.S. personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardized trade, and threatened freedom of navigation.”

But progressives like Khanna and others maintain that Biden should have come to Congress to seek authorization for the strikes first, given there was no urgent threat to the U.S. and because preparations for a response have been ongoing for some time.

“Section 2C of the War Powers Act is clear: POTUS may only introduce the U.S. into hostilities after Congressional authorization or in a national emergency when the U.S. is under imminent attack,” Khanna added in a social media post. “Reporting is not a substitute. This is a retaliatory, offensive strike.”

Presidents rarely go to Congress to seek approval for military action. The last president who did ― Barack Obama, who sought authorization to strike against the Syrian government in 2013 for its use of sarin gas ― was rebuffed.

Many Republican lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to respond to Houthi attacks in recent weeks. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Thursday called the strikes against the militias “long overdue” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) echoed the sentiment.

The U.S.-led coalition launched more than a dozen strikes on Houthi rebel targets in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a on Thursday night, including munitions, depots, launching systems and air defense systems. The strikes killed at least five and wounded six, according to the Houthis.

The strikes come amid widespread concern, including from national security officials, that the conflict will entangle the U.S. in a broader war in the Middle East involving Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he didn’t believe the war in Gaza is escalating into a regional conflict but he conceded there are “danger points.”

“I don’t think the conflict is escalating. There are danger points; we are trying to deal with each of them,” Blinken told reporters on Thursday.

Jonathan Nicholson contributed reporting.


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