Washington Policy Weekly: US Redesignates Houthis a Terrorist Organization

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Senate Rejects Resolution That Would Have Required Human Rights Report on Israel’s Actions in Gaza. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) forced a vote on S.Res.504, which would have required the State Department to produce a human rights report that would include any war crimes and human rights violations committed by Israel during its military campaign in Gaza. The resolution failed to move forward by a vote of 72-11, with nine democrats and one republican joining Sanders in supporting the legislation.

House Resolution Condemning Hamas and Sexual Violence Introduced. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) introduced H.Res.966. Cosponsored by 162 members of the House, the resolution resolves to condemn all forms of sexual violence as weapons of war, calls on nations to hold perpetrators accountable, calls on all international bodies to unequivocally condemn Hamas, and reaffirms US support for an independent investigation into alleged sexual violence that Hamas committed on and since October 7.

Congress Passes Continuing Resolution to Prevent Government Shutdown, Keeps Foreign Operations Afloat. Congress passed a bipartisan continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown. The CR will keep foreign operations and other programs funded through March 8. A number of amendments were considered under the CR, including one raised by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that would limit foreign assistance to Palestinians. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took to the floor to speak out against the amendment which would “undermine the United States’ ability to work in lockstep with Israel on critical security cooperation and on counterterrorism efforts with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.” The amendment, which failed by a vote of 44-50, also would have restricted US aid to hospitals, water treatment facilities, and other forms of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians. Lawmakers will continue to negotiate a bipartisan, bicameral full-year appropriations bill in the coming weeks.

Bills to Grant Nationals of Mauritania Temporary Protected Status Introduced in House and Senate. Rep. Mike Carey (R-OH) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced H.R.7034 and S.3618 respectively. The bipartisan companion bills seek to designate Mauritania under section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act to grant Mauritanians living in the United States temporary protected status for up to 18 months. The bills cite extraordinary conditions in Mauritania, including systemic and ongoing slavery and terrorism that prevent Mauritanians from safely returning to their country. The bills follow a letter written by Carey and Brown to President Joe Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on the same issue.

Senator Rubio Introduces Bill to Initiate Removal Proceedings for Persons Whose Visas Have Been Revoked. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced S.3587, a bill that would initiate removal proceedings for foreign nationals who have had their visas revoked on security-related grounds. The bill follows a previous provision to the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act pushed by Rubio that would have revoked visas and initiated deportation proceedings of any foreign national who endorsed Hamas.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Members of Congress Meet with Biden to Discuss Security Supplemental. President Biden met with members of the House and Senate Intelligence, Armed Services, Appropriations, and Foreign Relations Committees to discuss his administration’s proposed package, which includes $106 billion for funding for Ukraine, Israel, Indo-Pacific allies, and border security. The president has called on congressional leaders to pass the supplemental funding as soon as possible. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that there are ongoing conversations in the Senate regarding conditioning the aid provided to Israel.

House Republicans Request Commissioner-General of UNRWA to Appear Before Foreign Affairs Committee. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Subcommittee on Oversight & Accountability Chairman Brian Mast (R-FL), Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ), and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, requesting that he appear before the committee to address concerns about the diversion of food, fuel, and humanitarian supplies by Hamas. The lawmakers assert that UNRWA has failed to prevent the diversion of aid to Hamas and accuse the organization of having a “troubling history…aiding Palestinian terrorists and jihadists.”

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Speaks with Israeli PM Netanyahu. President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages being held by Hamas and review Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, including its reported shift to more targeted operations on the ground. Biden thanked Netanyahu for permitting the shipment of flour for Palestinians directly through Israel’s Ashdod port while emphasizing the need for increased humanitarian aid into Gaza. The leaders also discussed progress toward Israel releasing the Palestinian Authorities’ revenues and Biden’s “vision for a more durable peace and security for Israel fully integrated within the region and a two state-solution with Israel’s security guaranteed.”

White House Reacts to Killing of Palestinian American Teenager in West Bank. At a Friday press conference, NSC’s John Kirby reacted to news of the killing of Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, a 17-year-old Palestinian American from New Orleans killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank last week. Kirby told reporters that the administration is “seriously concerned” about the incident and said that “We don’t have perfect context about exactly what happened here…And we’re going to be in constant touch with counterparts in the region to get more information.”

White House Updates on Efforts for Hostage Releases and Humanitarian Aid for Gaza. NSC’s John Kirby reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to the release of all Israeli hostages from Gaza and noted that it has dispatched Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk to Doha to continue negotiations. Kirby also applauded the Israeli Army for its reported shift to “a low-intensity phase in North Gaza,” adding that US officials want to see a similar shift in the south that would allow for improved humanitarian aid access for Palestinians.

NSA Sullivan Meets with Leaders in Iraq and Qatar. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Prime Minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of Iraq, Mohammed Shia` al-Sudani, and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani in Davos, Switzerland. Sullivan and Prime Minister Barzani spoke about Iran’s ballistic missile attacks in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil on Monday, which Sullivan condemned as he reaffirmed US support for the Kurdistan region. They also discussed efforts to support the region’s economic well-being, including resuming the release of oil export revenues due from the Iraqi federal government. Sullivan and Prime Minister al-Sudani discussed recent attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria and the importance of maintaining the US-Iraq security partnership. With Prime Minister Al Thani, Sullivan focused on the release of the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, as well as increasing humanitarian aid access and delivery.

Hezbollah Rejects US Envoy Proposal in Lebanon. Special Envoy Amos Hochstein traveled to Israel and Lebanon in an effort to ease border tensions and reportedly proposed that Hezbollah move its forces away from the border, a proposal that the party rejected unless there is a ceasefire in Gaza. However, Hezbollah indicated its interest in pursuing other diplomatic solutions.

2) State Department

State Department Redesignates Houthis as Terrorist Organization. In response to recent attacks against US military forces and international maritime vessels operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the Biden administration announced the redesignation of Ansarallah, also known as the Houthis, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. The designation, which contains humanitarian carveouts, will enable the administration to impede Houthi access to financial markets and “stand up for the rights of commercial ships and the safety of American personnel,” as explained by State Department officials. President Biden had previously de-listed the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization in February 2021 but has been under pressure to re-list them following recent developments.

Secretary Blinken Meets with UN Secretary-General Guterres. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss the ongoing humanitarian situation in Gaza and the US-led response to Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. In their joint press statement, they also spoke about their shared belief in a two-state-solution in Israel-Palestine.

Secretary Blinken Talks Normalization and Palestinian Statehood in Davos. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with CNBC’s Andrew Sorkin and journalist Thomas Friedman in Davos, Switzerland where he reiterated the US commitment to a Palestinian state and continued efforts towards Israel’s normalization with countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia. The Secretary outlined his vision for peace, including “integration in the region, Israel’s normalization of relations with every country, security assurances and commitments, [and] a Palestinian state.”

3) Department of Defense

US-Led Coalition Launches Additional Strikes Against Houthi Targets in Yemen. CENTCOM announced last week that it conducted two additional sets of strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen after Houthi attacks hit a Maltese ship in the Red Sea on Tuesday. These strikes targeted Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles capable of attacking vessels moving through the shipping lane. NSC’s John Kirby stated that “If [the Houthis] choose to keep conducting these attacks, we will continue to defend against them and counter them as appropriate” and he indicated that the U.S.-led strikes have “degraded Houthi capability to conduct strikes” in the future. However, President Biden offered his review of the strikes on Wednesday, telling reporters that they have not yet deterred the Houthis, but that they will continue. Additional strikes on Houthi targets followed on Wednesday after 14 Houthi missiles posing a threat to merchant vessels were intercepted. The Defense Department reiterated on Thursday that the United States does not want the strikes to “spill out into a larger regional or wider-scale war.”

DoD Responds to Iraqi PM Comments About US Presence. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia` al-Sudani told the Wall Street Journal that troops from the US-led coalition located in the country were no longer needed, explaining that he believes “that the justifications for the international coalition have ended.” In response, General Ryder stated that he was “not aware of any official request by the government of Iraq for DOD forces to depart” and anticipates that Iraq and the United States will continue to work closely on the coalition’s mission to defeat ISIS. Shortly after the verbal exchange, US forces at al-Asad Airbase, Iraq were attacked by multiple ballistic missiles and rockets launched by Iranian-backed militants. US officials have since stated that “We are going to respond…to establish deterrence in these situations, and to hold these groups accountable that continue to attack us.”