Mr. President, I rise today in support of the pending resolution to end U.S support for the Saudi-led coalition’s military action in Yemen and to reiterate my previous calls for our country to respond more clearly, more forcefully, and with moral purpose to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by holding the Saudi Government accountable at the highest levels. Mr. President, before my remarks on this resolution, I want to speak about another important matter before the Senate, and that is the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which I urge my colleagues to take up and pass in this Congress. I thank Senator Gillibrand and a number of other leaders for their work on this bill. I have cosponsored it, along with more than 50 of my Senate colleagues.
This important legislation would ensure that thousands of Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, and their families, are able to receive the benefits they have earned. When our soldiers signed up to serve, we made a promise to provide them with the healthcare and benefits they deserve when they return home. The men and women who have served our country on the frontlines should not return home to find themselves left waiting at the end of the line and left waiting to get the healthcare they need or the benefits they have earned. This bipartisan legislation has already passed the House of Representatives. It is time for us in the Senate to do the same and maintain our commitment to our veterans. I do want to thank the Presiding Officer for the work we are doing together in a somewhat related area, and that is the area of burn pits—a modern day version of what many of our soldiers experienced during the Vietnam War with Agent Orange. We have something going on right now where our soldiers who were stationed next to these major, expansive burn pits have come home sick. It is the same principle as Agent Orange. I thank the Presiding Officer for his support for the bipartisan bill we are leading given that we have many good veterans from both Alaska and Minnesota who have come home with health problems. S.J. RES. 54
Mr. President, turning to the pending matter, I would like to join those of my colleagues who have spoken in support of this bipartisan resolution. I have come to the floor before on this issue because it is so important. It is time for Congress to speak with a clear voice in opposition to U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s operations in Yemen. We must make clear that we will not turn a blind eye to civilian casualties, as well as the ongoing humanitarian crisis that continues to devastate the country of Yemen and its people. With this resolution, we can end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military action in Yemen. This is an important step. It demonstrates that Congress will perform its constitutional duty in authorizing military action and demanding that our policies and actions are consistent with our values. In light of the bipartisan support for this resolution, which, of course, includes Senator Sanders and Senator Lee—I would also mention that former Senator Franken from Minnesota had been involved in this as a leader when he served in the Senate—the administration should more forcefully advocate for a meaningful political process to end the fighting.
Following the war in Yemen and the horrific murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi, I am concerned that this administration lacks a comprehensive strategy for dealing with Saudi Arabia. I have also been deeply concerned that the President continues to ignore human rights violations, the suppression of dissent, and the deaths of thousands of civilians in Yemen in order to maintain good relations with the Saudis. Yes, we have an important alliance with Saudi Arabia and an important trade relationship, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t stand up when you see the kind of horror we have seen in Yemen and when you see the kinds of human rights violations we have seen in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.
Look no further than how the President has repeatedly dismissed his own intelligence community’s assessment of the murder. This is after reports have made clear that the CIA believes with high confidence that this murder was called for at the highest levels of the Saudi Government, by the Crown Prince. His response stands in stark contrast to the founding principles of our democracy. If the President refuses to defend these values, then Congress must. This is not who we are as a country. So I call on my colleagues to join me— and I am so glad we have bipartisan support for this resolution—in defending our values. But this is not all we should do.
I support the comprehensive, bipartisan legislation introduced to ensure effective oversight of the U.S. policy on Yemen and demand meaningful accountability from the Saudi Government. This legislation includes provisions to suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and impose mandatory sanctions on people involved in the death of Mr. Khashoggi. While I support the recent decision to support U.S. aerial refueling—a decision of the administration—for Saudi coalition aircraft, as well as the sanctions that the administration imposed on 17 Saudi officials, this falls far short of the forceful response that our democratic values require. In addition, I have previously voted to limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and I will continue to oppose the sale of certain weapons—particularly offensive weapons—to the Kingdom. These are steps that we can and should take. While there is no question that we have common interests with Saudi Arabia and that Saudi Arabia has been our partner, these facts do not require our country to completely sacrifice our values.
The civil war in Yemen has now raged on for almost 4 years, resulting in widespread destruction in the country and one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. More than 22 million people—half of them children—are in need of assistance, and 8 million people in the country are on the brink of starvation. The country’s sanitation system, electrical system, and other critical infrastructure have been destroyed, leading to the most serious cholera outbreak in half a century. The ongoing violence has hindered the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian aid, including food and medicine. Finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict is both a humanitarian imperative and critical to stability on the Arabian Peninsula.
The United States has a long history of being a global leader in providing humanitarian aid, and we cannot just stand by and put our heads in the sand as this crisis continues. Our response to the fighting and the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen must demonstrate that U.S. foreign policy and global leadership will always be rooted in our values. It must show that we will not overlook violations of human rights, whether by Saudi Arabia or by Houthi rebels in Yemen. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this very important resolution and to really show the administration, to show the country, and to show the world that this Congress is actually fulfilling its obligations and constitutional duties. This is a very important moment for the U.S. Senate. Thank you. I yield the floor.