WASHINGTON ― Two top legal experts have told the Senate’s leaders that they see little merit in a Trump administration legal opinion criticizing Senate efforts to debate U.S. involvement in Yemen’s civil war.
“The insinuation... that the President may unilaterally engage the United States in military action to defend presidentially decreed American interests is frivolous,” write Bruce Ackerman, a Yale Law School professor, and Bruce Fein, a Reagan-era Justice Department official, in a letter obtained by HuffPost. “If the law means anything, it means that the Senate should debate and vote on S.J. Res. 54.”
At issue is a bill introduced last week by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that invokes the War Powers Resolution and demands that senators consider whether to end U.S. assistance for a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen since 2015. The Pentagon sent Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) a letter criticizing the proposal before it was even officially filed, HuffPost revealed last week.
Scholars on Twitter criticized the reasoning in the letter from the Defense Department’s acting general counsel, which relies on the idea that the U.S. is not actually helping fight the rebels, after HuffPost published the story.
In their five-page response, Ackerman and Fein note that a House resolution passed overwhelmingly last year with Pentagon input acknowledges that U.S. planes are providing aerial refueling to Saudi-led coalition planes bombing the rebel group and that the coalition is receiving American intelligence. They argue that the Defense Department letter justifies unconstitutional executive branch overreach.
Two backers of the House effort, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, solicited the analysis.
The senators are working on their own response, two Hill sources have told HuffPost. And the Trump administration is not backing down from the fight: Officials from the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community will make their case on Yemen policy to Senate staff on Wednesday morning, two sources said. Movement on the bill is expected next week and may come just as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, arrives in Washington to visit President Donald Trump.
Read the scholars’ letter to McConnell and Schumer here or below: