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tv   U.S. Senate Yemen War Powers  CSPAN  March 21, 2018 4:13am-5:16am EDT

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mr. sanders: mr. president, pursuant to section 1013 of the department of state authorization act, fiscal years 1984 and 1985 and in accordance with the provisions of section 601-b of the international security assistance and arms export control act of 1976, i make a motion to discharge
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senate joint resolution 54 from the committee on foreign relations. officer under the previous order, there are four hours of debate on the motion equally divided between the opponents and the proponents. mr. sanders: thank you, mr. president. mr. president, article 1, section 8, of the constitution states in no uncertain terms that, and i quote, congress shall have power to declare war, end of quote. let me repeat it. article 1, section 8, of the constitution states, it is congress that has the power to declare war. the founding fathers gave the power to authorize military conflicts to congress, the branch most accountable to the people. not to the president but to congress, and that is the issue
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that we are going to be debating today. mr. president, for far too long, congress under democratic and republican administrations has abdicated its constitutional role in authorizing war. the time is long overdue for congress to reassert that constitutional authority, and that is what today is about. and that is why i and 14 cosponsors of this resolution -- senators lee, murphy, warren, booker, leahy, markey, feinste feinstein, merkley, gillibrand, schatz and balanced written -- that is what we are doing with senate joint resolution 54. what we are saying is if
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congress wants to go to war in yemen or anyplace else, vote to go to war. that is your constitutional responsibility. stop abdicating that responsibility to a president, whether it is a republican president or, in the president, democratic presidents. mr. president, i expect that congress today will be arguing about what the word "hostilities" means within the context of the 1973 war powers resolution. what does the word "hostilities" mean? and some will argue that american troops are not out there shooting and getting shot at, not exchanging fire -- gunfire with their enemies. and that we are not really
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engaged in the horrifically destructive saudi-led war in yemen. that's what some will argue on the floor today, that we're really not engaged in hostilities, we're not exchanging fire. well, please tell that to the people of yemen, whose homes and lives are being destroyed by weapons marked "made in the u.s.a." dropped by planes being refueled by the u.s. military on targets chosen with u.s. assistance. only in the narrowist, most legalistic terms can anyone argue that the united states is not actively involved in hostilities alongside of saudi arabia in yemen. and let me take a minute to tell
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my colleagues what is happening in yemen right now, because a lot of people don't know. it's not something that is on the front pages of the newspapers or covered terribly much in television. right now in a very, very poor nation of 27 million people -- that is the nation of yemen -- in november of last year the united nations emergency relief coordinator told us that yemen was on the brink of, quote, the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, end of quote from the united nations. so far in this country of 27 million people -- this very poor country -- over 10,000 civilians have been killed and 40,000
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civilians have been wounded. over 3 million people in yemen in a nation of 27 million have been displaced, driven from their homes. 15 million people lack access to clean water and sanitation because water treatment plants have been destroyed. more than 20 million people in yemen, over two-thirds of the population of that country, need some kind of humanitarian support, with nearly 10 million in acute need of assistance. more than one million suspected cholera cases have been reported, representing potentially the worst cholera outbreak in world history. that is what is going on in
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yemen today as a result of the saudi-led war there. and here is, mr. president, the bottom line. if the president of the united states or members of congress believe that support for this war is in the united states' interest -- and i think some do -- if you think that the united states right now for our own interest should be involved in the civil war in yemen being led by saudi arabia, then members of the united states senate should have the courage to vote for u.s. participation in that war. nothing more complicated than that. you want to come to the floor of the senate, make the case why you think it is good public policy for us to be involved in
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that civil war in yemen, come to the floor and oppose our resolution. but what i hope very much that we will not see today is the tabling of this motion and the refusal by members of the senate to vote up or down as to whether or not we wish to continue aiding saudi arabia in this humanitarian disaster. if you believe, as i do, that we should not get sucked into this civil war, which has already caused so much human suffering, please vote against tabling the motion to discharge and vote with us on final passage. if you believe that the united states should continue to assist
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saudi arabia in this war, i urge you to have the courage to tell your constituents that that is your decision and why you have made that decision when you vote against final passage. in other words, if you support the war, have the courage to vote for it. if you don't, support the resolution that senator lee, senator murr first, and i -- senator murphy, and i have introduced. mr. president, let me give you at least two reasons why congress must reassert its constitutional authority over the issue of war and why we cannot continue to abdicate that responsibility to the president. and those have everything to do with the two most significant foreign policy disasters in the modern history of the united states -- the war in iraq and
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the war in vietnam. in both of these cases, congress sat back and failed to ask the hard questions, as two administrations -- one republican, one democrat -- led us into conflicts with disastrous consequences. interestingly, today is an historically significant day for us to debate this resolution. 15 years ago -- 15 years ago today -- on march 20, 2003, the war in iraq began and the bombs started falling in baghdad. 15 years ago today. i was one of those who opposed the iraq war in the beginning. and today it is now broadly acknowledged that the war -- that war was a foreign policy
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blunder of enormous magnitude. that war created a cascade of instability around the region that we are still dealing with today in syria and elsewhere and will be for many years to come. indeed, had it not been for the war in iraq, isis would almost certainly not exist. that war deepened hostilities between sunni and shia communities in iraq and elsewhere. it exacerbated a regional conflict for power between saudi arabia and iran and their proxies in places like syria, lebanon, and yemen. and it undermined american diplomatic efforts to resolve the israeli-palestinian conflict. the devastation experienced by iraq's civilians was enormous.
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a recent academic study by u.s., canadian, and iraqi researchers found that over 400,000 iraqi civilians, nearly half a million people, were killed directly or indirectly as a consequence of that war. that war led to the displacement of nearly 5 million people, both inside and outside iraq, putting great stress on the ability of surrounding countries to deal with these refugees. we've also seen this more recently in europe as the large numbers of people fleeing the syrian war has generated a bac backlash in european countries, giving rise to anti-muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments. the war in iraq led to the deaths -- to the deaths -- of some 4,400 american troops and the wounding, physical and
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emotional, of tens of thousands of others, not to mention the pain flinted on family -- inflicted on family members. and, by the way, that war in iraq cost us trillions of dollars, money that could have been spent on health care, education, infrastructure, and environmental protection. mr. president, the iraq war, like so many other military conflicts, had unintended consequences. it ended up making us less safe, not more safe. mr. president, it must be said that the bush administration and the president lied when he told the american people, quote, saddam hussein's regime is seeking a nuclear bomb and with fissile material could build one within a year, end of quote. that was not true.
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vice president dick cheney lied when he told us, quote, there is no doubt that saddam hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. there is no doubt he is amassing them it use against our friends, against our alive, and against us -- against our alive, and against us, end of quote, dick cheney. not true. no one believes that saddam hussein was a brutal, murderous dictator. but it is now known that he had nothing to do with 9/11. but the bush administration lied to the american people. iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. it was not connected to 9/11. the american people were misled by the bush administration into believing that the iraq war was necessary to prevent another 9/11. and congress did not challenge them on those claims. -- in a way that congress should have. with disastrous consequences.
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that was a republican administration. now let me tell you about a democratic administration where, once again, congress refused to assert its constitutional responsibility. let us go back to 1964 to a conflict that began on similarly false premises. president lyndon johnson cited an attack on a u.s. ship in the gulf of tonkin as a pretext for escalating the u.s. intervention in vietnam and sending more and more and more troops into that quagmire. but we now know from declassified recordings that johnson himself doubted that ship, the u.s.s. maddox had come
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you under fire on august 4, 1964. as we all know, that alleged attack was used to push for the gulf of tonnkin to escalate u.s. involvement in vietnam. we now know that secretary of defense robert mcnamara misled congress and the public in order to generate support for that resolution. now, you don't have to believe me. this is what lieutenant commander pat patterson wrote in a paper for the united states naval institute. and i quote, the evidence suggests a disturbing and deliberate attempt by secretary of defense mcnamara to mislead congress. patterson, interestingly enough, also quotes another author who wrote, and i quote, to enhance his chances for election, johnson and mcnamara deceived
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the american people and congress about the events in vietnam. they used a questionable report of a north vietnamese attack on u.s. naval vessels to diffuse republican senator and presidential candidate barry goldwater's charges that lyndon johnson was a resolute and sought in the foreign policy arena. end of quote. interestingly enough, mr. president, that author is h.r. mcmaster, president trump's current national security advisor. lyndon johnson's administration misled both congress and the american people into that war just as the bush administration misled us into the war in iraq. and what disasters both of those
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wars were. the war in vietnam nearly destroyed an entire generation of young people. almost 60,000 died in that war and god knows how many came back wounded in body and in spirit. almost destroyed an entire generation, and yet congress abdicated its responsibility in vietnam as it did in iraq. mr. president, the truth about yemen is that u.s. forces have been actively engaged in support of the saudi coalition in this war, providing intelligence and airline re -- aerial refueling of planes that has made this humanitarian across worse. this has proven counterproductive to the effort against al qaeda's ability, the
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ports on terrorism in 2016, found that the conflict with the saudi-led forces and the houthi insurgence has helped the yemen branch to deepen its end roads across much of the country. in other words, as we see again, when there is chaos, when there is mass confusion, isis and their allies are able to jump it. furthermore, while iran's support for houthi insurgence is of serious concern for all of us, the truth is this war has increased, not decreased, the opportunities for iranian interference. the trump administration has tried to justify or involvement in the yemen war as necessary to push back on iran many -- iran. another administration said that
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invading iraq was essential al qaeda. none of that turned out to be true. we should have asked the congress -- at those times should have asked the hard questions which they didn't ask. the congress should have taken its constitutional role seriously and did what the constitution demanded that it do, than is what my cosponsors and i are doing today. so, mr. president, let me just conclude, and i see my colleague, senator lee here, who has been very active in standing up for the constitution on this issue, and i will yield to him in a minute. here is the bottom line, and it is not a complicated line. the constitution is clear, the u.s. congress decides whether we go to war. there is no question in my mind
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that by aiding saudi arabia in the way that we are doing that, we are assisting in war. we are in a conflict. if members of the senate think that conflict makes sense, is good public policy for the united states of america, vote down our resolution. if you agree with senator lee and me, that it is a bad idea, support us. but what i would urge in the strongest possible terms is members of the senate have got to end the abdication of its constitutional responsibility. accept it. vote yes, vote no. do not vote to table this resolution and duck the constitutional responsibility that we have. with that, i would yield to my colleague, senator lee. mr. lee: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from utah.
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mr. lee: mr. president, the issue we're confronting today is one that deals with the separation of powers outlined in the united states constitution. you see, our system of government was setup in such a way as to protect the people from the dangers associated with the excessive accumulation of power in the hands of the few. we knew from our experience under british rule that bad things happen, especially at a national level, when too few people exercise too much of the power. nowhere is this more evident than in the case of the war power. in fact, much of the revolutionary struggle that led to the creation of our nation resulted from wartime activities undertaken by a monarch thousands of miles and an ocean away. it's important today that we remember those same concerns and the constraints placed into our
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constitution as we run our government nearly two and a half centuries later. i'm happy to be here with my colleague senator sanders to file a discharge motion for our resolution, s.j. res. 54. whether you're physically present in the chamber or tuning in at home, i hope you will listen closely so we can fill you in on the unauthorized middle east war that your government, the government of the united states of america, is supporting and actively participating in. this war in yemen has killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians, human beings, lest we forget. each one of them possessing innate, immeasurable worth and dignity. this war has created refugees,
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orphans, widows. it has cost millions of dollars, and believe it or not at the end of the day, it has quite arguably undermined our fight against terrorist threats against isis. i will expand on those thoughts for a moment, but for now let's focus on the military involvement in yemen has not been authorized by congress. article 1, section 8 of the constitution says that congress shall have the power to declare war. congress, not the president, not the pentagon, not someone else within the executive branch of government, but congress. yet, in 2015, then-president obama initiated our military involvement in yemen and did so without authorization from congress.
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the current administration has continued obama's war. senator sanders, senator murphy, our cosponsors and i are now giving congress a chance to fix this error by debating and voting on our nation's continued involvement in this unauthorized, illegal war in yemen. now, if as our opponents claim this war is necessary, then surely they can defend that argument before this body and before the house of representatives and ultimately secure authorization from congress just as the constitution demands under article 1, section 8. but if on the other hand they cannot defend this war and they cannot persuade a majority of members of this body and a majority of members of the house of representatives that this is a war that needs to be fought, then it needs to end.
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let's have an honest reckoning about this war today. before this debate gets under way in ernest, there are a few points that i'd like to clarify. first, let's talk about iran for just a moment. yes, the houthis did fire on a u.s. navy vessel. this only reinforces the fact that yemenis see the u.s. as participants in this war regardless of whether or not congress wants to acknowledge that participation or approve it as the constitution requires. what we do know is this. the houthis are a regional rebel group that does not itself threaten the united states. while the houthis are no friends of ours, neither are they a
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serious threat to american national security. the longer we fight against them, the more reason we give them to hate america and embrace the opportunists who are our true enemy in the region, iran. and the more we prolong activities to destabilize the region, the longer we harm our own interests in terms of trade and broader regional security. the bottom line, mr. president, is this, we're spending a great deal of time and treasure to defeat a regional rebel group with no desire to attack the homeland and unclear ties to iran. iran -- iran's influence is much clearer in other parts of the middle east with other groups, for example, with the murderous terrorist group hezzbollah. so if we p want to count -- so if we want to counter iran,
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let's have that debate in congress and vote to equip this administration with the necessary authorization to use our vast and fearsome military resources to defeat its proxies and not to create new proxies by turning rebel groups against us. let's talk about isis for a moment. our resolution would not impede the military's ability to fight terror groups like isis inside yemen. the resolution itself requires the removal of u.s. forces from hostilities in yemen except -- except, and i quote, united states armed forces engaged in operations directed at al qaeda or associated forces. close quote. that is a direct quote from the text of the resolution itself. it should put the rest of the notion, it should put to rest this notion that this would
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somehow jeopardize our ability to fight terrorists. the pentagon and the executive branch have long insisted that it has adequate authority under the authorization for the use of military force enacted in 201, adequate authority under the 20 01aumf to fight isis. so if they at the pentagon and elsewhere this the executive branch, or if any of my colleagues now claim that this resolution specifically needs to exempt operations against isis, what are we to make of their previous confidence in the 2001, aumf. have they suddenly lost faith in that document overnight or are they merely using this argument as a pretense to oppose our resolution? i personally believe that the 2001 aumf has been stretched too
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far. our position is agnostic about whether counterterror can proceed. our resolution is specific and our resolution relates specifically to the houthis. nothing in this bill may be interpreted as an aumf. lastly, with regard to saudi arabia and the ongoing visit of crown prince mohammed ben solman in washington, d.c., at the moment, i've been deeply concerned about our illegal war in yemen since its inception and have taken steps to end our involvement in that war. i presented questions to our combatant commanders on the topic just as i have for other
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unauthorized operations in the past. i had hoped the new administration might take prompt action to end our unauthorized activities in yemen. sadly, that has not occurred. last fall, after countless missed opportunities and some broken assurances, my colleagues and i decided it was time to take matters into our own hands. by matters, i mean those matters that are specifically already in our hands. those matters that are already granted to the united states congress and to no other branch of government. there may be some short-term impact on the u.s.-saudi relationship, but overall, the crown prince should understand that this protracted and clearly nonconclusive war only hurts his government's stability and
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legitimacy. he, too, should want a quick end to this conflict. saudi arabia is an indispensable partner in the region, without which the united states would be less successful, but the saudis themselves are at a reflection point within their own government. working with the united states should be a goal for the crown prince and should be a credibility-lending endeavor. the resolution before you is the product of years of effort. it was not timed in any way, shape, or form to coincide with the crown prince's visit. it was drafted with one thing in mind, which is to make sure that before we put u.s. blood and treasure on the line, before we put the sons and daughters of
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the american people who serve in harm's way into an area in which hostilities are ongoing, to get involved in combat capacities in an area where conflict is brewing, we owe it to them, we owe it to their parents, we owe it to their families, we owe it to ourselves having taken an oath to uphold, protect, and defend the constitution of the united states to do it the right way. not just because the constitution requires that, but also because of the reasons why the constitution requires that. it makes sense that when we're doing something that has a greater capacity to impact our government, our standing in the world, our own security and the lives of those who were sworn to protect us, if we do it in the
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right way, not just through the appropriate branch of government but through the appropriate branch of government in part because that's the only place where an open, honest public debate can occur. it's one thing to make a decision somewhere within the military chain of command on whether to undertake a particular action, but this is one of the reasons why in order to declare war, in order to get us involved in a war in the first place, it requires action by congress because this is the branch of the federal government most accountable to the people at the most regular intervals. over the course of many decades under the leadership of congresses and white houses of every conceivable partisan combination, we've seen a gradual shift of power in a number of areas, including regulatory policy, including trade policy, and including the exercise of the war power over to the executive branch of government. when we don't exercise that
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power, it starts to atrophy. the constitution means less and it is less able to protect the american people. that's why this resolution matters. that's why i urge my colleagues to support this resolution. let's do this the right way. thank you, mr. president. mr. sanders: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from vermont. mr. sanders: i ask my colleague from utah a very simple question. i ask him whether he agrees with me or not. but it seems to me, senator lee, that we are talking about two separate issues here. without objection. it seems to me we are talking about two separate issues, one of which is really a no-brainer, and the no-brainer is that the constitution is very clear that it is the united states congress, not the president, who determines whether or not we go to war and that we are currently in an unauthorized war in yemen. and that the first vote, if
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there is an attempt to table this, would be absolutely unacceptable because we would be abdicating our decision-making, and then the second vote is the vote on whether we think it is a good idea to be in yemen alongside -- would you agree with me that at least on the motion to table, every member of the senate should allow us to go forward, to vote against tabling so that people in the senate accept their constitutional responsibility to vote yes or no on the war in yemen? mr. lee: i would certainly agree that the answer is yes in response to that question. it is congress that gets to decide whether or not we go to war. it is not the executive branch. and for that very same reason, when we have brought up this
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resolution, calling the question on whether or not we have authorized that war and whether or not we should continue in the absence of an authorization for that war, if we are asked to table that, that very request amounts to a request for abdication of our constitutional responsibility. a favorite song of mine called "free will" by the band rush came out several decades ago. it says if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. if we choose in this moment to table this resolution, we are making a choice to be willfully blind to the exercise of a power that belongs to us, to allow someone else to exercise it without proper authority. that is wrong. that cannot happen, not on our watch. mr. sanders: let me just concur strongly with what senator lee just said. there may be disagreements about the wisdom of being allied with saudi arabia on the war in
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yemen. there will be honest disagreements about that. but there cannot be and there must not be an abdication of constitutional responsibility in terms of making that decision. if you think that u.s. participation in the war in yemen is a good idea, you can vote against our resolution. if you agree with us that it is a bad idea, support our resolution. but simply to abdicate your responsibility on this issue would be absolutely irresponsible. so i would hope that we would have virtually unanimous support in voting against the effort to table, then let us get into the debate about the wisdom of the war and vote it up or down. needless to say, i would hope that the members support our resolution, but let us at least have that vote and not abdicate
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our responsibility. mr. lee: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from utah. mr. lee: some of our colleagues from time to time may ask us how we would define the term hostilities, and what the united states might be doing that triggers that definition. i welcome that discussion. it's important to note that the u.s. code is somewhat vague as to that question, defining hostilities broadly to mean any conflict subject to the laws of war. i don't necessarily view that broad definition as problematic. it is something that allows congress to assess the unique circumstances in each instance on specific grounds at each point in time. our involvement in war and in
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conflict has greatly changed over the years, and it will continue to change as the nature of international relations changes, as the technology that we use in war changes and develops. it doesn't mean that we're not involved in hostilities. i welcome further discussion on this matter. so let's look at the facts of our involvement in yemen today. since 2015, u.s. forces have aided the saudi coalition with midair refueling and target selection assistance, or as defense secretary jim mattis said in december, 2017, our military is helping the saudis, quote, make certain they hit the right thing, close quote. so in other words, we're helping a foreign power bomb its adversaries in multiple ways. if that doesn't include and
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amount to and itself constitute hostilities, then such words have lost their meaning. now, there are those within the executive branch of government who would define the term hostilities so narrowly that it would apply only when our armed service personnel are on the ground firing upon or being fired upon by an enemy force. it's understandable in some respects that they would want to define it this way, because if they define it that way, that puts the executive in power. that's one of the reasons why we have to remember that there is a natural penchant built into our constitutional structure to make sure that not all power is concentrated in any one branch of government. it's one of the reasons why, as alexander hamilton pointed out in federalist number 69, the war
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power would not be exercised by the executive in our system of government. in this instance, as in many others, the executive in our system of government would differ from the monarch under the old system, the one that was based in london. you see, the king had the power to take great britain to war. the king didn't have to seek a declaration of war from parliament. the king could act in and of himself to decide when to take us to war. that's one of the reasons why it matters here. when we see the definition of hostilities narrowed to the point that it very often will not exist, given the way we engage in hostilities today, given modern technologies that frequently allow us to engage in acts that anyone would have to acknowledge, amount to combat,
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amount to conflict, amount to hostilities, they can still explain it away as something that the executive can do independently of congress. now, this resolution actually will not do anything, according to some, because we're not engaged in hostilities in yemen. this building upon this argument that's based on a very narrow, cramped, distorted interpretation of the word hostilities. and so when people ask what do we think the resolution would do if it would pass, well, first of all, it's -- it's clear that we are engaged in hostilities because when we're involved in , involved in midair refueling in combat flights, when we're identifying targets for the
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saudi-led military coalition in yemen against the howt -- houthis, these are combat activities, those are hostilities. even if we were to expos that combat activities in yemen still did not compose hostilities, the text of our resolution is crystal clear about what constitutes hostilities for its purposes. namely, quote, aerial targeting assistance, intelligence sharing, and mid flight aerial refueling. our resolution would end those very specific activities against the houthis in yemen. nothing more and nothing less. mr. sanders: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from vermont. mr. sanders: now i speak only for myself on this issue and tell you why i am so motivated about this resolution. and that is if we think back on the modern history of our
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country and we think of the two most significant foreign policy decisions -- and that is the war in vietnam and the war in iraq and the unbelievable, unintended consequences that those two destructive wars had, what we conclude is that in both of those wars, one under a democratic president, one under a republican president, the congress abdicated its responsibility, did not ask the right questions, and that in both instances, we got into those terrible, terrible wars based on lies. the administration, johnson administration, lied about why we should get involved into the war in vietnam. the bush administration lied as to why we should get involved in the war in iraq. and it just steams me that --
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and it just seems to me that, if nothing -- based on those two examples, what the war in vietnam did and what the war in iraq did -- that congress has got to take a deep breath and understand that the people who wrote that constitution were not fools. and what they said, it must be the people -- elected people closest to the constituents who have got to debate these issues, who know that decisions being made about result in the loss of lives of people in their own states. and we have abdicated that responsibility. now, no one can predict whether the decisions made by congress are going to be good decisions with regard to war and peace, whether we're going to do better than presidents did. i don't know. but at the very least we have got to accept our responsibili responsibility, not simply take the word of presidents who in the two most recent significant wars have lied to the american people.
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so, mr. president, once again, i know there may be differences of opinion regarding the wisdom of the u.s. being involved in the war in yemen. if you think it's a good idea, vote against our resolution. there should be no difference of opinion about accepting our responsibility under the constitution to vote on whether or not it is a good idea. with that, i would -- mike, did you want more time? i would yield. is that all right with you? okay. mr. lee: mr. president? the presiding officer: yes, the senator from utah. mr. lee: one of the other questions we get from time to time is, you know, senator sanders mentioned some previous wars and how this may or may not relate to those previous wars. it's also a related question that we get, how does this impact or influence operations where the united states is
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engaged somewhere else in the world? with the passage -- would the passage of this resolution mean that every other type of operation anywhere else in the world would have to stop, too? and what about our global counterterrorism activities? we sometimes get those questions. the main reason we drafted this resolution was to bring our activities in yemen into line with our laws, as expressed in the constitution. so if we're fighting unauthorized wars in other places around the globe, then those wars need to be authorized by congress or else they would need to end. importantly, however, this resolution does not itself make law or set precedent for other operations. this resolution applies just to this conflict in yemen against the houthis. each conflict or operation ought
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to be evaluated oint own merits and -- on its own merits and measured against our national interest and any existing authorizations efficient use of -- for the use of military force. so we can't evaluate this resolution as being something that requires us to swallow the entire elephant at once. this is just focusing on one issue in one part of the world. and we need not take any kind of a sky-is-falling approach that will say this will immediately jeopardize everything else we're doing anywhere in any and every part of the world. now, global counterterror operations under title 10 or title 50 involve u.s. action but arise in different ways.
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and any other activity that we undertake or authority that we cite in introducing our armed service personnel into hostilities cannot serve as a substitute into congressional action. the power to declare war belongs to congress and not to the executive. just because government breaks the rules often -- and sometimes with impunity -- does not mean it has the right to break the rules, nor does it mean that we shouldn't call out rule breaking where we see it going on. but that's a debate for another day. the resolution buffs is specific to our activity -- the resolution before us is specific to our activities in yemen. it does not authorize or
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deauthorize activities in any other part of the globe against any other foe. it does not interfere with existing operations against al qaeda and its affiliates. our resolution is merely tailored to assist forces against the houthis. counterterror operations supported by the 2001 aumf and other legitimate authorizations would not be affected by this resolution. mr. president, i'd like to yield the floor to senator murphy. mr. murphy: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from connecticut. mr. murphy: thank you, mr. president. i'm grateful to be able to join for a few moments with the cosponsors of this resolution, senator lee and senator sanders. it is important to pick up on what senator lee was just
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putting down, the notion that this is a limited resolution that speaks to our participation in an unauthorized, illegal partnership with the saudis to bomb the country of yemen. it does not affect our partnership with saudi arabia and others in the gulf region to continue to confront terror, to continue to confront al qaeda. a specific carve-out of this legislation allowing for 2001 aumf activities to go forward. but it is also important to note that if you care about that priority -- taking on caulks taking on isis in the region -- then you should support debating our resolution because all of the evidence suggests that the continuation of this civil war inside yemen is making aqap, the arm of al qaeda that has the clearest intentions to attack the homeland and isis, both more powerful. aqap controls much more territory inside yemen than they
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did at the beginning of this civil war. and if you take the time to meet with yemeni americans, they will tell you that inside yemen, this is not perceived as a saudi bombing campaign. it is perceived as a united states-saudi bombing campaign. toad this new information that -- add to this new information that suggests that some of our partners in the coalition, though not directly work was al qaeda -- working with al qaeda are starting to arm some sulla afa militias that are filled with the type of individuals that could easily turn, take the training they've received from the coalitions, the weapons they've received from the coalition against the united states. so if you care about the mission against terrorism, then you should support debating our resolution. but just to recap the reasons why we are here today, we need
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to have a debate on the lack of authorization for military force because it is time for congress to step up and do our constitutional duty. the administration told us that in their letter to us that we do not have the authority as the united states congress to weigh in on military activity waged by the administration unless there are two armies firing at each other on the ground in an area of conflict. that is the administration's definition of hostilities. that is a definition that's been used by republicans and democrats. this is not exclusive to the trump administration. it would allow for the united states, through executive decision only, to wage an air campaign against a country that wipes it out without any say from the united states congress. clearly what is happening in yemen today meets the definition of hostilities. we have shown pictures on this floor before of entire cities
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that have been wiped out, 10,000-plus civilians have been killed, the largest outbreak of cholera in the history of the world in terms of what we have recorded. that is hostilities, and the united states is clearly engaging in those hostilities because we are helping with targeting, refueling the planes, supplying the munitions. so if we cede to unlimited executive authority with respect to this engagement, there is no end to that. lastly, let me justine what's happening on the ground -- let me just speak to what's happening on the ground. there's zero evidence -- zero evidence -- that u.s. participation in this coalition has made things better. civilian casualties are not getting b the day after christmas over 60 civilians were killed in a series of airstrikes. reports are that last month the saudis engaged once again in something called double tapping, in which they target an area where civilians live, they wait
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for the emergency responders to arrive, and then they hit again, something that is not allowed by international humanitarian law. the humanitarian catastrophe itself is getting worse, not better. and maybe most importantly, the battle lines inside yemen are not changing. the saudis have been telling us for years just stick with us, stick with us. if you keep on helping us bomb the yemeni people, we will win this war, we will get back control of hugh data at that and -- of hudaydah. today the houthis control about 70% of the population inside yemen. if we continue to support this bombing campaign, nothing will change except more people will die, except more civilians will be hit by the bombs that we help to drop, except that al qaeda will continue to control big portions of that country. and so while senator lee notes
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that this resolution is actually not on the merits of our engagement there, it is on whether or not we have legal justification to be there, let's admit that if you do super-the merits -- if you do consider the merits, other than backing the play of our historic ally, there is nothing to suggest that our participation there is making things better. mr. sanders: whether you agree with me whether we're dealing with two separate issues here. the first issue is a no brainer. it is whether or not the congress -- or had this case the senate of the united states -- accepts its constitutional responsibility on issues of war. we are now engaged in a war in yemen with saudi arabia. the constitution is very clear. article 1, section 8, it is the
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congress that determines whether it country goes to war. i believe that will happen -- i believe what will happen in a few hours is a motion to table will come up. would you agree with me that it would be an act of cowardice in a essential an abdid i indication of congressional -- an abdid i indication of congressional responsibility for someone to vote to table that resolution? mr. murphy: by voting to table the consideration of this are you are voting to -- the consideration of this resolution, you are voting to stop a debate, a conversation from happening in the united states senate about whether or not proper authorization exists. so let's be hon best p what this first vote is. this first vote is, do we want to talk about whether or not there is authorization to perpetuate this war? and by voting to stop debate, by voting to table this motion and refrain from proceeding to a conversation about this topic, we are signaling in a very clear
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way to the administration and to the american public that we are not interested in exercising our article 1 authority on the issue of war making. mr. sanders: in other words, no matter what one's view may be about the wisdom of the war, a vote to table is to abdicate our constitutional responsibility? mr. murphy: is to send a very clear signal to the administration that we are not interested in having a debate here about questions, complicated questions of legal authority for serious military engagements overseas. mr. sanders: all right. let me just concur with senator murphy. if you think it's a good idea for the united states to be involved in the war in yemen with saudi arabia, you can vote against our resolution. but i can think of no reason at all why any member of the congress would vote to table this resolution and prevent that discussion.
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and i would hope that we would have strong support against any motion to table and allow that debate to go forward. with that, mr. president, i would yield the floor.
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