Republicans in Congress are laying the groundwork to reapply sanctions on the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that were dismantled by the Biden administration, just days after the militant group raided the U.S. embassy compound in Yemen, where they stole equipment and kidnapped local staff.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) distributed a sanctions measure to other Senate offices on Friday afternoon and will formally introduce the sanctions language on Monday as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate is expected to take up this week, according to a copy of the measure exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The amendment comes following months of back-and-forth between Cruz and the Biden administration on the issue, including an effort by the senator to pressure the State Department into explaining its decision to reduce sanctions on the Houthis.
In the House, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R., Ga.) is pushing similar legislation to re-designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization in response to their siege last week of the U.S. embassy compound in Sana’a, Yemen. The measures are likely to garner widespread GOP support in light of the embassy raid, which generated outrage from Republican foreign policy leaders in both chambers. It is unclear how Democrats will vote, but Republican and Democratic foreign policy leaders both promised consequences for the embassy strike soon after it took place last week.
The Houthis, which have been running a bloody war in Yemen, were designated as a foreign terrorist organization and added to the specially designated global terrorists list in January by the outgoing Trump administration. Those designations were removed almost immediately in February, when President Joe Biden took office, with his State Department claiming the sanctions interfered with humanitarian efforts in Yemen. The Biden administration also withdrew weapons support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition aiding Yemen’s government in the fight against the Houthis, which are armed and funded by Iran.
The Biden administration’s decision to nix sanctions on the Houthis was viewed as part of a wider effort to reopen diplomacy with Iran and cajole the Houthi militants into entering peace talks centered on ending the civil war in Yemen. Almost immediately after the Biden administration lifted sanctions, the Houthis launched a military offensive on the city of Marib, sent armed drones into Saudi Arabia, and increased their extrajudicial killings—which include attacks on civilians, journalists, and children.
The Houthis escalated their attacks on Wednesday, when they stormed the U.S. embassy facility in Yemen and reportedly stole "large quantities of equipment and materials." The attacks followed the kidnapping of several Yemeni nationals who worked for the U.S. embassy, which ceased operations in 2015 as the war in the country spread. While Americans were pulled from the country at that time, Yemeni nationals continue to be employed for duties related to U.S. interests, including guarding the embassy grounds.
Republican lawmakers say the Biden administration’s decision to lift sanctions on the Houthis emboldened them and sent a message to Iran that increased terror strikes would not draw a tough response from the U.S. administration.
Cruz’s sanctions measure, which is being offered as a last-minute amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, reverses the Biden administration’s actions and reapplies sanctions on the Houthis as an organization, as well as the group’s officials, agents, and affiliates.
While the Biden administration opposes sanctions, both parties want to see consequences for the Houthi raid. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Jim Risch (R., Idaho) in condemning the Houthi advance and promised "consequences" for the attack.
Clyde’s measure is a standalone bill that includes similar language to the Senate version. It was introduced in June, but Clyde is recirculating the bill in light of the Houthi raid on the U.S. embassy facility. He is pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) to immediately bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.
"I implore all of my colleagues—both Republican and Democrat—to respond to Wednesday’s breach by supporting my legislation and recognizing the Houthis for what they are—a terrorist organization," Clyde said in a statement. "The United States must project strength, not weakness and thereby further empower Iran. The administration must swiftly respond to the Houthis’ aggression and bring the hostages back to safety."
The majority of the Yemenis kidnapped by the Houthis were security staff who guarded the embassy compound for the United States. The State Department told the Free Beacon on Thursday that the Yemeni workers were "detained without explanation" and that the administration "has been unceasing in its diplomatic efforts to secure their release." The State Department also said it is "concerned about the breach of the compound" and is demanding the Houthis "immediately vacate it and return all seized property."
The Houthis have launched hundreds of attacks since the Biden administration removed them from the U.S. terror list. There have been at least 11 attacks just this month, including several ballistic missile attacks and the kidnapping of Yemenis who work for the United States. The Houthis carried out nearly 30 attacks in October and every other month in 2021.