Congress finally uses the War Powers law to try to stop involvement in Yemen


By Robert Willmann

While the mass media tries to distract and influence the people by using topics on the federal income tax returns of Donald Trump's numerous limited liability companies and corporations, and what the Robert Mueller group might have said in its "report", something of real importance happened yesterday.  Congress as a whole finished passing a resolution under the War Powers Act, also called the War Powers Resolution, to stop involvement in the Yemen war without further authorization.

Senate Joint Resolution 7, first introduced in the Senate on 30 January 2019 by co-sponsors Bernie Sanders (Independent [Dem.] Vermont) and Mike Lee (Repub. Utah), is entitled:  "A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress" [1]–

It passed the Senate by a 54-46 vote, and in the House by 247-175 (voting present, 1; not voting, 9).  A few Republicans joined the Democrats to push it through [2].

The War Powers Resolution/Act was passed in 1973 in the context of the Vietnam War to try to boost the power of Congress to decide whether war will exist or not, by adding specific language in a statute in addition to the Constitutional statement in Article 1, section 8:  "The Congress shall have Power … To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water".  The Vietnam War was a full-fledged, real war, but it was not authorized by a Congressional declaration of war pursuant to the constitution.


The War Powers Resolution is in Title 50, U.S. Code, chapter 33, sections 1541-1549.  This official text from the House of Representatives publication of the laws includes added information about authorizations to use force, including one regarding a "Multinational Force in Lebanon" (Public Law 98-119 from 1983)–

Section 1549 of Title 50 was added in 2017.   The War Powers law is also published at the location referenced in the citation below [3].  Sections 1544(b) and (c) have the language for terminating activity, especially part (c)–

"Concurrent resolution for removal by President of United States Armed Forces. Notwithstanding subsection (b), at any time that United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States, its possessions and territories without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution". 

The operative language of S.J.Res.7 is in section 2, requiring that U.S. armed forces stop not later than 30 days from yesterday, with an "exception"–

"… except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces, by not later than the date that is 30 days after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution (unless the President requests and Congress authorizes a later date), and unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces has been enacted. For purposes of this resolution, in this section, the term 'hostilities' includes in-flight refueling of non-United States aircraft conducting missions as part of the ongoing civil war in Yemen".

Since a lot of governmental law is vocabulary and definitions, various interpretations may be forthcoming of applicable words:  "United States Armed Forces", "operations", "al Qaeda", "or associated forces", and "hostilities". Congress did make a beginning effort on the word hostilities, saying that it does include "in-flight refueling of non-United States aircraft".

Regardless of any twisting and turning of language that might subsequently occur, and opposition by almost all Republicans, this resolution is an important step.


[1]  Information on S.J.Res.7 and plain text and pdf versions of it.

[2]  The roll call votes passing the resolution in the Senate and House.

[3] Title 50, U.S. Code, chapter 33, sections 1541-1549.


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