1. Action Alert
  2. Middle East & Iran

55 Representatives Tell Trump to Put Brakes on Yemen War

By Kate Gould, March 29, 2017


Your calls made a difference! 55 Representatives released a bipartisan letter to President Trump, calling on him to come to Congress before taking military action in Yemen.

Update: Your calls made a difference! On April 11, 55 Representatives released a bipartisan letter to President Trump, calling on him to come to Congress before taking military action in Yemen. Congressman Mark Pocan released a press release on the successful release of the letter.

Letter 55 Representatives Put Brakes on Yemen War 

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Justin Amash (R-MI), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and 50 other Members of Congress put the brakes on war in Yemen by sending a bipartisan letter to President Trump calling on him to come to Congress before escalating military action in Yemen.

Bipartisan Letter on Yemen

Dear Mr. President:

We write to express our serious concern over reports that your administration is actively considering “direct support for the anti-Houthi coalition” of militaries led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Administration officials are said to be weighing proposals to provide Saudi-led forces with “surveillance and intelligence, refueling, and operational planning assistance” against the Shia Houthis who control most of Yemen’s population centers. One administration official acknowledged that the removal of preexisting White House prohibitions on such assistance could be viewed as “a green light for direct involvement in a major war.

Direct U.S. hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis would run counter to your pledge to pursue a “disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy” that protects American families in “every decision.” Indeed, according to U.S. defense officials, the U.S.-backed Saudi war against Houthis in Yemen has already “strengthened al Qaeda there” and poses “a serious threat to U.S. security.”

We share the concerns of some of your advisers, who worry that direct support for the Saudi coalition’s war against Houthis “would take too many resources away from the counterterrorism fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” We are further troubled by news reports indicating that Al Qaeda in Yemen has “emerged as a de facto ally” of the Saudi-led militaries with whom your administration aims to partner more closely. According to press accounts, Al Qaeda in Yemen has fought against the Houthis on the same side as Saudi coalition forces in several battles near Taiz and al-Bayda, while also operating closely with Saudi-financed Islamist militias.

Moreover, Congress has never authorized the actions under consideration. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) sought and received by President George W. Bush, which has been interpreted to apply to Al Qaeda and associated forces, has never been cited by any government official as justification for U.S. involvement in military actions against Yemen’s Houthis. The Houthis have never been “associated forces” to Al Qaeda; they are Zaydis, a branch of Shiite Islam, and strongly oppose the Sunni Al Qaeda, which promotes sectarian violence against Shia.

Engaging our military against Yemen’s Houthis when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers clearly delineated in the Constitution. For this reason, we write to request that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provide, without delay, any legal justification that it would cite if the administration intends to engage in direct hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis without seeking congressional authorization.

As U.S. Representatives, we take seriously the right and responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of force, or to refuse to do so, as mandated by the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Resolution. We expect that any direct military actions pursued by the administration against the Yemeni Houthis be brought before Congress for consideration and authorization for approval before they are executed.

In August 2013, when President Obama threatened to bomb Syrian government forces without congressional approval, a large, bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives objected. They urged the president “to consult and receive authorization from Congress,” noting that the president’s “responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.” President Obama subsequently agreed to seek congressional authorization.

In light of the gravity of a potential U.S. military escalation in Yemen, we additionally seek the OLC’s prompt legal opinions concerning:

  • Defense Secretary James Mattis’s proposal to aid the Saudi military coalition in seizing the Houthi-controlled Yemeni port of Hodeida. The current, Saudi-enforced blockade of Hodei- dah—a main entry point for food, medicine and humanitarian aid—is pushing Yemen to the brink of famine. Over 50 members of Congress have urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to use “all U.S. diplomatic tools” to reopen the port, noting that nearly half a million Yemeni children are “nearing starvation.” Saudi-led airstrikes have destroyed the Hodeidah province’s roads and bridges, leaving “unexploded rockets” inside the port that further prevent vital aid shipments from effectively reaching the more than 7.3 million Yemenis in need of urgent food assistance. In addition to the possibility that a U.S.-assisted operation to capture Hodeidah could worsen Yemen’s humanitarian situation, U.S. involvement in such an action has never been justified to Congress.

  • Your administration’s “increased logistical support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign” against Houthis in recent days. U.S. Senators Rand Paul and Chris Murphy have noted that the Obama administration never received congressional authorization for refueling and targeting assistance to Saudi coalition warplanes. We wish to know your legal justification for continuing and expanding this policy in the absence of such authorization.

  • The recent threat by your administration to intercept an Iranian ship in international waters “to look for contraband weapons possibly headed to Houthi fighters in Yemen.” While Secretary Mattis was reported to have “ultimately decided to set the operation aside, at least for now,” we wish to know how such an interdiction—an act of hostilities—would be legally justified despite having no prior congressional authorization.

The United States has participated in Saudi-led airstrikes that have been blamed for most of Yemen’s 10,000 civilian deaths, creating a security vacuum that Al Qaeda has exploited to expand its base of operations. We therefore urge you to terminate U.S. refueling for Saudi coalition warplanes and end, rather than increase, U.S. logistical assistance for the Saudi-led bombings in Yemen. At minimum, any decision by the administration to engage in direct U.S. hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis must be subject to a congressional debate and vote, as the framers of the Constitution intended and the 1973 War Powers Resolution demands. As you know, the War Powers Resolution provides a mechanism for individual Members of Congress to force the question of congressional authorization if the administration is not forthcoming in seeking approval for a planned military action.

We await your prompt response regarding any legal rationale for U.S. participation in hostilities against Houthi forces in Yemen and whether your administration plans to seek approval from Congress. Your timely answer is appreciated as we explore how best to assert our constitutional role of oversight and authorization over such actions.

Sincerely,

Rep. Justin Amash (MI-3)
Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37)
Rep. Don Beyer (VA-8)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-3)
Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (GU)
Rep. Michael Capuano (MA-7)
Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27)
Rep. David Cicilline (RA-1)
Rep. Yvette Clarke (NY-9)
Rep. Cleaver (MO-5)
Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-9)
Rep. Conyers (MI-13)
Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4)
Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI-12)
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35)
Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-5)
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13)
Rep. Dwight Evans (PA-2)
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2)
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3)
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (IL-4)
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1)
Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL-20)
Rep. James Himes (CT-4)
Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-2)
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-7)
Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-4)
Rep. Walter Jones (N-3C)
Rep. Ron Kind (WI-3)
Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Rep. Ted Lieu (CA-33)
Rep. Lofgren (CA-19)
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)
Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA-8)
Rep. James McGovern (MA-2)
Rep. Jerry Nadler (NH-10)
Rep. Grace Napolitano (CA-32)
Rep. Rick Nolan (MN-8)
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ-6)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-1)
Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-2)
Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2)
Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8)
Rep. Bobby Rush (IL-1)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9)
Rep. Darren Soto (FL-9)
Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (NY-25)
Rep. Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41)
Rep. Paul Tonko (NY-20)
Rep. Tim Walz (MN-1)
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12)
Rep. Peter Welch (VT)
Rep. Frederica Wilson (FL-24)

Script from Your Calls

Call 1-855-68 NO WAR to connect with the Capitol Switchboard, and ask for your Rep. When you are connected to your representative’s office, you can use the following script:

  • Hi my name is [NAME] and I’m a constituent of yours living in [CITY], [STATE].
  • I’m calling to ask the Representative to sign on to the Pocan-Amash-Lieu-Jones letter, urging President Trump to seek authorization from Congress before escalating the war in Yemen.
  • The deadline is April 6th. Can I count on the Representative to sign on?
  • Thanks for taking my call

The congressional, bipartisan letter to President Trump states “engaging our military against Yemen’s Houthis when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers clearly delineated in the Constitution. For this reason, we write to request that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provide, without delay, any legal justification that it would cite if the administration intends to engage in direct hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis without seeking congressional authorization.”

Background Reading

For crucial background reading on the latest in the role of the United States in Yemen, see:

Letter NGO Letter to President Trump on the Hodeidah Offensive in Yemen 

In a letter to President Trump, 39 NGOs urged him to withhold American support for any offensive against the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah in order to protect the Yemeni people from further suffering. The International Rescue Committee has warned that any attack on Hodeidah port would risk famine and cut off a lifeline, since 70 percent of imports and humanitarian aid enter the country through the port.

Kate Gould

  • Legislative Representative, Middle East Policy

Kate Gould serves as the Legislative Representative for Middle East Policy. Kate directs FCNL's lobbying on Middle East policy, and is one of only a handful of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. working to support diplomatic solutions to disputes between the U.S. and Iran and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel/Palestine.