WASHINGTON —U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) – all co-authors of a bipartisan joint resolution to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen pursuant to the War Powers Resolution – refuted a Department of Defense (DoD) letter outlining the Pentagon’s opposition to the resolution. In response to the letter sent by DoD to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the senators rebutted DoD’s opposition to the resolution to end United States involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and urged McConnell to schedule a vote on the resolution.
“For too long, and under both parties, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to provide authorization for the use of military force. S.J. Res. 54 begins the process of reasserting congressional responsibility for the decision to commit U.S. armed forces to military conflict. [DoD] advances several reasons for its opposition, none of which are meritorious, and which we will address in turn,” wrote the senators. “Regardless of what one thinks of our involvement in Yemen, as we enter a fourth year of helping the Saudis prosecute this war it is important that Congress either provides express authorization for our involvement in the conflict or calls on the president to cease operations.”
On February 27, DoD sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explaining why DoD opposed a joint resolution ending U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The DoD made two arguments: 1) United States involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen does not constitute “hostilities” pursuant to the War Powers Resolution; and 2) Article II of the Constitution empowers the President of the United States to do what has been done in Yemen. While successive administrations have used the broadest possible interpretation of authorizations for use of force – including stretching the 2001 AUMF beyond all recognition – they choose to use the narrowest possible definition of hostilities when it comes to denying Congress its constitutional role.
The senators’ letter in response to DoD’s opposition identifies a number of specific activities of U.S. Armed Forces that clearly trigger the War Powers Resolution definition of “hostilities” including, “refueling operations, intelligence sharing activities, and participation in the Joint Combined Planning Cell.” The letter also notes that the DoD’s expansive understanding of Article II powers would “expand presidential … and would effectively nullify Congress’ express constitutional authority to declare war.”
As a result of the Saudi-led war, a child under the age of five in Yemen dies of preventable causes every 10 minutes. More than 10,000 civilians have died and more than 40,000 have been wounded in this war. Fifteen million people can’t access clean water and sanitation. An estimated 17 million people – 60 percent of the total population – do not have reliable access to food and are at risk of starvation.
In 2015, the Obama administration, without consulting Congress, quickly deployed U.S. military forces to provide “logistical and intelligence support” to the Saudi coalition. U.S. military support for this intervention continues to this day. U.S. forces are coordinating, refueling, and providing targeting guidance and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, as confirmed recently by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Murphy has been a vocal critic of U.S. support for military campaigns in Yemen that have led to devastating humanitarian consequences and a security vacuum that has empowered terrorist groups. Murphy introduced bipartisan legislation to limit U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen and called on the Saudi government to take action to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.