Senators Respond to Pentagon’s Yemen War Letter

March 13, 2018

WASHINGTON – Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) responded to a Department of Defense letter last week that outlined the Pentagon’s opposition to a War Powers Resolution motion that would end United States involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

“For too long, and under both parties, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to provide authorization for the use of military force,” the senators’ letter reads. “S.J. Res. 54 begins the process of reasserting congressional responsibility for the decision to commit U.S. armed forces to military conflict. 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’s full letter can be read below but basically 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 in deciding when U.S. forces should become involved in overseas military conflicts.

The senators’ letter 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.”

Acting GC Letter to Majority Leader

DoD Response Letter