Floor Remarks on S. J. Res. 39 – Resolution of Disapproval of the Saudi Arms Sales

September 21, 2016

I rise today to lend my support – and to urge my colleagues to lend theirs – to Senate Joint Resolution 39, offered by my friend, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The purpose of this resolution is to reconsider the billion-dollar arms sale between the United States and Saudi Arabia that was negotiated by the two governments earlier this year.

Under U.S. law, any arms sale approved by the State Department will go into effect 30 days after it’s finalized, unless Congress passes a resolution of disapproval to prevent it from taking place.

And that’s exactly what Senator Paul’s resolution aims to do. If passed by the Senate and the House, this resolution would prevent the United States government from selling $1.15 billion worth of weapons and military equipment to the Saudi Arabian government.

Mr. President, you’ll notice that there are Senators from both sides of the aisle working to pass this resolution of disapproval. It was introduced by a fellow Republican, and I’m proud to join three of my Democratic colleagues as original co-sponsors: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, and Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

Some might call us strange bedfellows – two conservative Republicans and three liberal Democrats working together to achieve the same goal. But this misses the point.

Each one of us may have his own unique justification for supporting this resolution, but there’s nothing strange about that. It simply proves that there are many reasons to reconsider this arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

One of those reasons – and the basis of my support for Senator Paul’s resolution – is that there is no credible evidence that the Saudi arms deal will advance the strategic and security interests of the United States.

In fact, much of the available evidence points in the opposite direction.

We know that Saudi Arabia is heavily involved in the civil war raging in Yemen – a conflict that has left a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions in its wake. And we know the Saudi military will use the equipment included in this deal – everything from machine guns and grenade launchers to armored vehicles and tanks – to increase its engagement in that intractable conflict.

But what we don’t know is exactly how America’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen serves our national-security interests.

I have no problem, in principle, with the United States government selling military weapons and equipment to foreign governments. And I’m certainly not categorically opposed to selling arms to the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia has long been an American ally in a very volatile region, and I believe strengthening that alliance should be a priority of our foreign policy in the Middle East.

But the fact that Saudi Arabia is an ally with whom we have a track record of selling arms is not a sufficient reason to endorse this arms deal.

Yes, we want our allies to be strong and capable of defending themselves. And yes, we should offer them assistance in times of need.

But the first and most fundamental responsibility of the United States government is not to satisfy the requests of our allies. It is to protect the lives and liberties of the American people.

The Saudi government clearly believes that intervening in the civil war in Yemen – and participating in the decades-long sectarian conflict underlying that war – is in the best interest of the Saudi people. That’s why the Saudi military has been fighting in Yemen since it first launched its intervention in March 2015.

But can the same be said of the United States government? Is intervening in this civil war a national priority for the American people?

Astoundingly, this is a question that has never been fully discussed or debated in this institution.

Mr. President, this is more than an abdication of responsibility by Congress – it is a national-security hazard.

The Framers of our Constitution gave important and exclusive foreign-policy powers to the Legislative Branch because they believed that the process of defining America’s national interests – and developing a foreign policy to pursue those interests – must involve the participation of the people’s representatives in Congress.

But in recent years, Congress – and the Senate in particular – has happily taken a back seat to the Executive Branch in debating, developing, and defending to the public our nation’s foreign policy and grand strategy in the Middle East.

That explains how it is possible that our military has actively supported the Saudi military’s intervention in Yemen – including hundreds of air-to-air refueling sorties – at a time when our military leaders unanimously contend that they are suffering from readiness and personnel shortfalls.

And it explains how it is possible that the U.S. military would be actively involved in the civil war in Yemen, even though many security experts point out that, by supporting Saudi Arabia’s fight against the Houthis, we could be unintentionally assisting Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula and ISIS affiliates in Yemen.

Mr. President, I urge my colleagues today to support this resolution of disapproval.  Let us pause our intervention in this foreign conflict and show the country that the Legislative Branch can responsibly fulfill its obligations to the American people – that we can openly and thoughtfully evaluate our interventions abroad, and that we are focused on protecting the security, safety, and interests of the American people.