Foreign Policy

House Resolution Seeks End to U.S. Military Involvement in Yemen

It signals that many in Congress still condemn America's role in the war and actions from the president that lack proper authorization.


Members of the House introduced a resolution yesterday that would help end U.S. military involvement in the Yemeni Civil War if passed.

The Yemen War Powers Resolution is sponsored by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D–Wash.), Peter DeFazio (D–Ore.), Nancy Mace (R–S.C.), and Adam Schiff (D–Calif.). Dozens of other representatives have signed on as co-sponsors, including progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) and conservatives like Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.).

America's involvement in the Yemeni Civil War began in March 2015 and has proven controversial among many lawmakers across three presidential administrations. Congress never authorized U.S. military action against the Houthis, the group currently fighting against the international coalition led by Saudi Arabia for control of Yemen. The Constitution explicitly requires such authorization, given that Congress has the sole power to declare war under Article 1, Section 8. Presidents have nonetheless introduced the U.S. armed forces to hostilities in Yemen and have provided logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition.

Lawmakers are now citing a provision in the 1973 War Powers Resolution that says forces "engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States…without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization" must be removed by the president "if the Congress so directs." They point out that U.S. armed forces have been involved in "sharing intelligence for the purpose of enabling offensive coalition strikes" and "providing logistical support for offensive coalition strikes, including by providing maintenance or transferring spare parts to coalition members." If passed, the resolution would direct the removal of those troops. Congress would reclaim its constitutional say in military engagement in Yemen, rather than permitting the president to continue involvement without proper oversight.

"We will not sit by as the Constitution is ignored and the Yemeni people suffer seven years into this unauthorized war," wrote Jayapal and DeFazio in a February piece for The Nation. "If the administration refuses to act, Congress will force them to."

U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition has helped wreak havoc in Yemen. American involvement isn't just limited to providing intelligence and logistical support: The U.S. sold over $1 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia last year, despite President Joe Biden's campaign-trail promise that he would end weapons sales to the kingdom. A September 2021 United Nations report noted that "the continued sale of weapons to both sides of the war has exacerbated the fighting," pointing a finger at Canada, France, Iran, the United Kingdom, and the United States for supplying arms.

Though presidents have painted that assistance to Saudi Arabia as being performed in the service of a critical regional ally—a label that human rights advocates rightly question—it's enabled the destruction of Yemen and devastation of critical infrastructure. Due to limited access to food, clean water, and health services, it's estimated that a child under the age of 5 died every nine minutes in Yemen in 2021. The Campaign Against Arms Trade estimates that nearly 15,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed in attacks on civilian gatherings or buildings, with 60 percent of those deaths caused by airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition.

Lawmakers have sought to halt weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia before but have been met with resistance from the president. So too have war powers resolutions. Still, yesterday's resolution and the broad bipartisan support it has garnered signal that many in Congress still condemn U.S. involvement in the war and the fact that the president has been acting without proper authorization.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) is expected to introduce a companion version of the resolution in the Senate next week. Time will tell if the Biden administration will continue to assert that Saudi Arabia is an important and reliable partner, all while stripping lawmakers of their constitutional war powers.