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Menendez Delivers Floor Speech Ahead of Vote on U.S. Military Role in Yemen

WASHINGTON D.C. – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered a speech before the Senate voted to approve J.Res.54 - A joint resolution to direct the removal of U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.  Explaining his support for the resolution, Senator Menendez criticized the Trump Administration’s failure to reign in the Saudi Coalition, which has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The Senator also called on Congress to pass his bipartisan Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018 to impose real consequences for those in the Saudi government who ordered the murder of U.S. resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


Below are his remarks as delivered:

“I rise today to discuss S.J. Res 54, legislation first brought forward by Senators Lee, Sanders, Murphy and others more than eight months ago.

The past two years have reminded us time and again of the urgent responsibility of Congress to perform real checks and balances and to steadfastly defend our American values both at home and abroad.

I thank them for their continued efforts throughout these intervening months to shed light on the devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen and to make sure that this body fulfills its oversight duties.

Over the last three and half years, the tragic humanitarian crisis in Yemen has continued to deteriorate.

More than 10,000 people are dead. Fourteen million people are on the brink of starvation. We’ve seen the heartbreaking photos of malnourished, starving children on the brink of death. We’ve learned in UN reports of the cholera outbreaks that jeopardize more than ten thousand people every week. And we’ve come to conclusion that the status quo cannot stand.

Back in March, I joined a majority of my colleagues in voting to table this resolution with the understanding that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would hold hearings on how to fully weigh our options in Yemen… And the hope the Administration would strategically leverage our limited military support for the Saudi Coalition to lessen civilian casualties, influence a potential political settlement, or at the very least, prevent the situation from getting worse.

At the time, I also made clear to this body, to the President, and to the Saudi government that our relationship and our limited military support was not - and is not - a blank check.

I had hoped the Administration would provide convincing evidence that our military support was in fact reducing civilian casualties, a goal we heard repeatedly emphasized by U.S. officials. I had hoped the Administration would use this foreign policy tool to advocate for a meaningful political process.

Unfortunately, this Administration has failed to adequately address either problem.

The Saudi coalition has not provided any more confidence in its operations. Despite being reassured that our engagement with the Saudis was decreasing civilian casualties, the facts on the ground speak far more powerfully against those assertions.

On a broader scale, we are seriously evaluating our bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia. The bombing of a school bus full of children and other civilian targets is not something I want America’s fingerprints on.

Make no mistake: the United States and Saudi Arabia do share common security interests. Saudi Arabia faces real and imminent threats from Yemeni-originated attacks inside its territory, from ballistic and SCUD missile attacks aimed at major Saudi population centers to cross-border attacks by Iranian-backed Houthis.

Meanwhile Iran continues its destabilizing behavior across the Middle East, and the terrorists with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula take advantage of the security breakdown.

Now I continue to believe the United States must live up to our commitments and support our partners in the face of real and imminent threats.

But over the past year, I have failed to see how continued U.S. military support for the Saudi-led Coalition’s operations in Yemen has in fact promoted our interests, or indeed, the long-term interests of the Saudi population.

As I said in March, this particular resolution raises the question of how we leverage all of the foreign policy tools at our disposal to advance peace and prevent the tragic loss of more human life.

Today, it’s clear to me that the status quo is not advancing these critical interests.

The limited military support we are providing the Saudi coalition is not our best tool, and today I offer my support for discharging, something I normally oppose, discharging a resolution from the committee.

I call on the Administration – again – to develop a cogent strategy in concert with the international community to compel all the parties to the negotiating table, and to ensure that the millions of Yemenis at risk of starvation receive the humanitarian support that’s ready to be delivered.

I’ve also worked with Senators Young, Reed, Graham, Shaheen, Collins, as well as my colleague Senator Murphy, to introduce legislation with reference to the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018.

I have hope that the committee would consider this legislation and that we would have a vote on it in this Congress.

In the aftermath of the Saudi government’s murder of U.S. resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the whitewashing that the Trump administration has performed to avoid real consequences for those who ordered his death, this legislation is needed now more than ever.

Without a real diplomatic and political strategy, there’s no end to this conflict. There’s no end to the violence. There’s no end to the human suffering.

It’s time we bring this resolution to the floor for the full consideration of the Senate.

Over the last month, I have seen nothing to convince me that our limited military support for the Saudi coalition’s efforts in Yemen continue to serve our national-security interests, nor do they reflect America’s enduring values and commitment to freedom and human rights.

I continue to believe that an absence of American leadership undermines our interests, our security and the security of our allies. American presence does not necessarily equal American leadership. America’s leadership on the global stage must always be driven by a sense of purpose and moral clarity.  I fear that when we lose that sense of moral clarity, that sense of purpose – then we lose who we are as a nation. And we lose sight of the very values that make America a leader of nations.”