Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) demanded Wednesday that President Biden lay out a clear strategy for countering Iran-backed Houthi attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea, arguing that the US-led bombing campaign against the Yemen-based terror group could be “escalating” tensions in the Middle East.
“Every president has inherent power under Article Two to defend the United States,” Kaine said during an interview with CNN. “And that’s always been understood to mean to defend US personnel, US military assets, possibly even US commercial assets. [Biden] doesn’t need to ask Congress permission.”
“But when you go on the offense against a group and if it’s more than just self-defense, and now suddenly it’s a back and forth that’s escalating – that’s classically when it becomes an offensive and not just defensive operation,” the Senate Armed Services Committee member added.
Kaine, 65, noted that most ships traveling through the Red Sea are “foreign-flagged ships” and while there may be a “good strategic reason to protect them,” it would not qualify as “a self-defense rationale under the Constitution.”
The Virginia Democrat and three other senators – Todd Young (R-Ind.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) – penned a letter to Biden, 81, Tuesday raising these concerns and urging the president to seek a favorable vote from Congress before engaging in offensive military action in Yemen.
“What is the strategy when we’re trying to deter and degrade but your administration is actually predicting that the Houthis are going to up the pace, which they are doing,” Kaine told CNN, referring to questions he asked of Biden in the missive.
“What’s the strategy? How do we de-escalate? And what are your legal authorities? We need to be briefed on that,” he continued. “And I think Congress needs to be brought into it, because the last thing we need to do is to slide into another war in the Middle East without a really careful consideration and a debate in front of the public.”
“Everything we’re seeing suggests that the escalation will continue. And if that’s going to be the case, then Congress needs to be brought into this,” Kaine argued.
The Houthis have launched more than 30 attacks on international and commercial vessels in the Red Sea since last November, according to the Pentagon.
On Jan. 11, US and British forces conducted the first in a series of airstrikes targeting Houthi positions in Yemen.
When asked last week if the strikes were working to deter Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea, Biden responded, “Well, when you say ‘working,’ are they stopping the Houthis? No.”
The president also vowed to continue carrying out airstrikes.