Pressure Mounts on Biden Admin To Reapply Sanctions on Iran-Backed Houthis

Coalition of GOP lawmakers demands Biden designate Houthis as terrorists

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Getty Images)
January 21, 2022

A coalition of Republican lawmakers is pressuring the Biden administration to redesignate the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels as a terror group following this week’s large-scale attack on the United Arab Emirates.

The Houthis, who are armed, funded, and directed by Iran, launched a terror attack this week on Abu Dhabi’s international airport, killing and wounding civilians. While the Biden administration quickly condemned the attack, it has come under criticism for its decision early last year to remove the Houthis from the U.S.-designated terror list. In a Friday letter, spearheaded by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.) and sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Republican foreign policy leaders pressured the Biden administration to reverse course on the Houthis.

"The Houthis very clearly meet all legal criteria for designation. They are a foreign organization that engages in terrorist activity that threatens U.S. interests and nationals," 10 Republican lawmakers wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon. "Revoking the designation of the Houthis without any material change in its behavior, as was done previously, undermines the credibility of this important foreign policy tool."

The letter comes just hours after Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and a coalition of Senate GOP leaders filed new legislation that would force the Biden administration to relist the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization and apply sanctions on its leadership, as the Free Beacon reported. President Joe Biden and Blinken both said this week that the administration is considering redesignating the Houthis, but it remains unclear if there is a firm timeline for this decision to take place. Sanctions on the group were lifted during Biden’s first week in office in what many viewed as an effort to appease Iran as talks over a revamped nuclear deal began.

In addition to pressure from Congress, senior leaders in the UAE called on the Biden administration to redesignate the Houthis as a terror group this week, and other U.S. allies in the region have echoed that call. The attack in Abu Dhabi was seen as one of the most advanced Houthi strikes yet, indicating that Iran is supplying the group with more advanced missiles and drones to increase the lethality of the group’s attacks.

"It is evident that the Houthi rebels continue to reject good faith efforts to negotiate a diplomatic solution, instead choosing the path of violence, including against civilians and civilian targets," the lawmakers wrote. "We fully support reversing this decision and re-listing the Houthis."

In addition to Tenney, the letter was signed by Reps. Darrell Issa (R. Calif.), Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), Tim Burchett (R., Tenn.), Greg Steube (R., Fla.), Ronny Jackson (R., Texas), and Michael McCaul (R., Texas), among others.

Since the Biden administration lifted the Houthi terror designation, the group has stepped up its attacks. This includes storming the U.S. embassy facility in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, earlier this year and taking Yemeni staff who worked at the compound hostage. The Houthis also detained Americans in the past year and seized a UAE-flagged tanker operating in the region.

Tenney and her Republican House colleagues say these attacks could have been prevented or mitigated if the Biden administration had kept the Houthis on the U.S. terror list and targeted them with sanctions.

"The previous administration’s designations would have further isolated the Houthis, curbed their financing and deterred foreign direct support, and heightened public awareness of its activities," the lawmakers wrote.

Tenney and other House Republican members initially petitioned the Biden administration in March 2021 to "reverse this reckless decision" after the Houthis conducted a drone attack at a Saudi Arabian oil facility. The Houthis launched at least three more attacks on Saudi Arabia after that letter from the lawmakers.

"We again urge you to re-designate the Houthis as [a Foreign Terrorist Organization] and [Specially Designated Global Terrorists] to advance efforts to achieve a sovereign and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors," the lawmakers concluded.