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Timothy K.
Democrat VA

About Sen. Timothy
  • Nomination of Sarah R. Saldana to Be an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security

    by Senator Tim Kaine

    Posted on 2014-12-16

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    KAINE. Mr. President, I wish to discuss the work that Congress still must do regarding America's ongoing war against ISIL, and I am glad to follow my colleague, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has played such a critical role in initiating the first major step that Congress has taken. I want to talk about that step and the steps in which we would continue to engage.

    It was my strong hope as of December 2014 that Congress would have spoken by now with a clear voice regarding ISIL and authorizing the military action commenced by President Obama on August 8. While that has not occurred, action taken by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week finally moves the body into the sort of good-faith legislative process regarding this ongoing military action, and it is my hope the process will be completed early in 2015.

    I first began speaking about this issue in the spring of 2013. I had grown deeply concerned that the administration, as did the previous administration, was using the 2001 Al Qaeda authorization and the 2002 Iraq authorization to justify military actions significantly beyond what Congress had intended when those authorizations passed. So during an Armed Services hearing in May 2013, I told administration witnesses that any decision to introduce U.S. forces into Syria would require, in my view, a new authorization.

    I was pleased when President Obama sought congressional approval for military action in Syria in August 2013, and [[Page S6877]] I believe the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote at that time helped lead to the ultimate destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile--one of the largest stockpiles in the world.

    There is an important lesson. The President's determination that U.S. military action is necessary is made more powerful when Congress joins in that decision.

    In June of this year, when it became apparent that the advances of ISIL in Iraq and Syria posed a threat to humanitarian values, to regional allies, to U.S. citizens and embassies and to our broader national interests, I publicly argued and encouraged the administration to address the threat--but only using military force after consultation and approval by Congress.

    Make no mistake. ISIL is a major threat. But Presidents cannot constitutionally start military action without Congress unless there is a direct and imminent threat to the United States.

    In this instance, with ISIL's activities occurring halfway across the globe and with the administration admitting that the organization poses no imminent threat of attacking the United States, a new congressional authorization is necessary.

    Now, I regret that the administration started military action--what President Obama called going on offense against ISIL--in August without congressional approval. The White House asserts that the current action is justified by the 2001 and 2002 authorizations, but most outside observers and most Members of Congress believe the current campaign against ISIL needs its own legal authorization. The White House has not proposed authorizing language, and so it is up to Congress to do the job of providing a legal framework for this war.

    I introduced a proposed authorization for war against ISIL within days after President Obama addressed the Nation on television on the evening of September 10. Since then, I have been working to have the matter heard--first in the Foreign Relations Committee and then by the full Senate. I have been greatly assisted in my effort by many colleagues, none more so than the chairman, Senator Menendez, who has passionately worked to advance this item in the business of the Senate.

    The pace of our efforts has been frustratingly slow. But last week, after a series of hearings and business meetings, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on an authorization to authorize the ongoing military action.

    The authorization is a sound product that does a number of things. First, it authorizes and describes the military campaign against ISIL. Second, it establishes a 3-year duration of the authorization, with the ability for reauthorization if the Congress determines it to be in the national interests. Third, the authorization repeals the 2002 Iraq authorization and sunsets the 2001 Al Qaeda authorization in 3 years as a mechanism for forcing Congress to review and revise that Al Qaeda authorization.

    Finally, what we did last week places limitations on the use of U.S. ground troops in the war on ISIL in accord with President Obama's clear pledges to the American public and our considered judgment that the U.S. role should be primarily to assist ground troops from the region in battling the region's own extremist violence.

    After reporting the authorization out of committee, Senator Menendez filed it as an amendment to the omnibus budget bill with numerous cosponsors, including me. That was entirely appropriate because the budget contained funding for the ongoing operation against ISIL. But the amendment was not allowed, and, thus, in all likelihood, we will adjourn our 2014 session without taking action beyond the SFRC vote.

    But just as the SFRC vote in August 2013 played a significant role leading to the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile, I believe the authorization we passed last week will also have a significant effect. It becomes the first formal action by Congress in providing a legal framework for the war that, until now, has been carried out without any clear legal authority. It will be the basis for our discussions in January as we complete the necessary work of authorizing this military action.

    It is my hope that the authorization passed in Senator Menendez's committee will be introduced early in 2015, with dozens of cosponsors, and ultimately enable a full congressional vote on this most important matter.

    I do believe the dialogue in Congress since August--since the President initiated unilateral military action on August 8--does offer some important lessons.

    First, not surprisingly--and especially as a Virginian I have to say this--the Framers of our Constitution had it right--Framers such as Mason, Madison, and Jefferson. We shouldn't go to war without congressional approval. Unilateral action by the Executive without congressional support deprives the public of the full debate necessary to educate everybody about whether military action is in the national interest.

    Just as importantly--maybe more importantly--it is unfair to send American troops into harm's way without a clear political consensus supporting the mission. We have already had three Americans who have lost their lives in Operation Inherent Resolve.

    Congressional debate and approval expresses a support for the mission. But the lack of clear congressional support subjects an ambivalence about whether military action is a good idea or bad, and that is not healthy when we are asking people to risk their lives.

    Second, when a President decides that military action is needed, the events of the last few months demonstrate it is best for the President to propose a draft authorization to Congress. When the President spoke to the Nation on September 10, he should have sent a draft authorization of the war against ISIL to Congress immediately. A clear definition of the proposed mission by the President is the best way to encourage full congressional debate and build the national consensus in support of the proposed mission.

    Now, if a President does not propose an authorization, that doesn't give the Article I branch--the legislature--a pass from our constitutional obligations. We cannot let the lack of Presidential action slow us down in doing our job. But the process works better if the President initiates military action with a clear proposed authorization of Congress.

    Third, the administration's reliance on the 2001 and 2002 authorizations in prosecuting this war on ISIL without congressional action demonstrates the profound need to revisit those authorities, because using a 13-year-old authorization crafted in different times for a different circumstance under a different administration for a different bit of geography with the support of a vastly different Congress to justify a new war 13 years later is not the way the Nation should make the great decision about whether to go to war. That is why the repeal of the 2002 authorization and a significant revision of the 2001 authorization is so important.

    Finally, the events of the last months revealed yet again the weaknesses of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, an act whose provisions have been ignored by Presidents and Congresses of both parties since the ink was dry on the original. This fall, as an example, the President provided Congress notice of the start of military action as provided by the 1973 act, but then he completely ignored the 60- and 90-day timeline for ceasing military action and instead continued military operations in a unilateral way. It is time to update the 1973 law so it will work, for gosh sake. Senator McCain and I have introduced a significant revision of the law to improve the consultation between Congress and the President on matters of war, to define the magnitude of conflict that should trigger a required congressional vote, and to set out mandatory timelines for congressional action.

    I am fully aware that a better, more consistent process for initiating war will not make our security challenges easy ones. The world is a difficult place. We have bellicose authoritarian regimes-- North Korea and Russia--we have non-State actors such as ISIL or Boko Haram or the al-Nusra Front or Al Qaeda. It is a complicated security situation that we have right now, and if we have a better process it will not make those security challenges easy, but I maintain--and my belief has grown stronger with every day I have [[Page S6878]] been in this body--that the absence of a process for making decisions about war coupled with the twin pathologies of Executive overreach and congressional abdication make it harder for us to do the right thing with clarity and with speed.

    The events of the last month show that America can make decisions about war in a better way, and it is my hope we will address this important issue promptly as we reconvene in 2015.

    Thank you.

    I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Heitkamp). The clerk will call the roll.

    The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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