Directing the Removal of United States Armed Forces From Hostilities in the Republic of Yemen That Have Not Been Authorized By Congress

Floor Speech

Date: April 4, 2019
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Foreign Affairs


Madam Speaker, it is a little surprising that we find ourselves back on the floor debating this resolution. After all, it has already passed both Chambers with bipartisan support. It has passed the Senate twice.

Opponents of this measure have used every trick in the book to slow it down, to try and derail it, but we have reached the last page in that book, and I am confident that after we vote today, this resolution will head to the President's desk, and the President will have to face the reality that Congress is no longer going to ignore its constitutional obligations when it comes to foreign policy and when it comes to determining when and where our military is engaged in hostilities.

We are taking up this resolution because we see a policy from this administration that has strayed from our values and a crisis that demands moral leadership, which is the war in Yemen.

I fully understand America's security concerns in Yemen. I appreciate the complexities of our interests in the region. The Houthis are trouble. They launch missiles and armed UAVs into Saudi territory and international waters, and that is a direct threat to Americans. They are starving the Yemeni people, diverting assistance, and holding civilians hostage to their political demands.

The Houthis are one of the groups Iran uses to drive instability and gain influence. We all know what a serious threat Iran poses in the region. The regime is the world's prolific state sponsor of terrorism, so it is important that we push back against Iran and those who depend on Iranian support.

But the Saudi-led coalition's response has not grappled with this problem in a responsible way, in a way designed to minimize damage to civilians and the communities where they live, and in a way that could help bring about a political solution to this crisis.

Instead, time after time after time, coalition strikes have resulted in the loss of innocent life, and the violence has set off ripple effects that have contributed to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Madam Speaker, 85,000 children have starved to death and 14 million are on the brink of famine. More than 1 million suffer from cholera, and just last week, the coalition reportedly bombed a hospital run by Save the Children.

In the face of this catastrophe, the administration has demanded no accountability from the Saudis and Emiratis. But Congress won't remain silent.

This brings us, once again, to the resolution we are now considering. This measure would specifically ban aerial refueling of warplanes carrying out airstrikes. The Defense Department has stopped refueling as a matter of policy. This measure would do so as a matter of law.

The Defense Department also says that the United States is not engaged in hostilities when it comes to this war. Well, the Defense Department is entitled to its opinion, but Congress is a coequal branch of government, and only we say when the United States is at war. We don't look to the executive branch to explain the war powers that reside in this body or for permission to exercise that power, the power the Framers gave to Congress.

This measure is written very narrowly, so it won't tie the hands of the executive branch or set new precedents or cause unintended consequences when it comes to our other security agreements around the world.

It does nothing to expand or modify the authority provided under the Authorization for Use of Military Force this body passed in 2001. Instead, it focuses on this particular tragedy and sends the message that enough is enough, that Congress will no longer abdicate its responsibility when it comes to foreign policy, and that we will push to make sure our values are at the core of how the United States conducts itself around the world.

This resolution is rooted in those values: respect for human rights, for human dignity, and for the belief that all people should be able to live free of fear, oppression, and violence.

I hope the President understands that; and if he uses his veto pen, I hope he understands just what it is he is vetoing.

Let me thank Mr. Khanna for his hard work and leadership on the resolution we are considering today.

I also want to thank our ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. McCaul. We have an honest disagreement on this one, but he has consistently and forthrightly made his case on the policy. I am grateful to all my colleagues who have contributed so much to this important debate.


Mr. ENGEL. Madam Speaker, I yield 2\1/2\ minutes to the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson Lee).


Mr. ENGEL. Madam Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Levin).


Mr. ENGEL. Madam Speaker, I yield 1\1/2\ minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Khanna), who has been so instrumental in bringing everyone together to make a change in policy that is much needed.


In closing, let me say this. Everyone who knows me knows that I hold Iran guilty to many nefarious things that are happening in that region. This is not really about Iran. Iran is providing dangerous weapons to the Houthis, and the Houthis have starved the Yemeni people, killed civilians, and diverted assistance. I am not here to defend the Houthis.

The Saudis do have legitimate concerns about the Houthis, and the Houthis are not my vision of good and righteous. Quite the opposite.

But this resolution doesn't empower Iran. Quite the opposite. The longer the conflict goes on, and the longer the United States supports it, the better off Iran is.

We are really doing two things here. We are saying to the administration--and I, frankly, would say this, given my experience over the past two decades--to any administration. There is no blank check for war. We have abrogated our responsibility in the years that I have been here--and I am as guilty as anyone--by allowing administration after administration after administration to conduct wars that this body should have voted on.

Only Congress can declare war. And if we ignore what is happening with the civilian population in this war with the Houthis, then we do so at our own peril. We then say that, because Saudi Arabia does have legitimate concerns--and they do--we are giving them a blank check to do whatever they want.

No blank checks anymore. No blank checks to say the administration can run wars without getting the approval of Congress. And no blank checks to indiscriminately bomb and have innocent civilians and schoolchildren in buses be killed, and people starving in a humanitarian crisis.

We can't just sit back and say: ``Well, you know, we have difficulties with Iran, so we are going to look the other way.'' I have lots of difficulties with Iran, but we can't look the other way when people are starving or when people are being killed. That is what we are doing now.

So we are doing two things. We are saying no more war in which we are complicit, where a population is wholesale starving. We are also saying that this body is not giving a blank check to every administration. And I would be doing this no matter who the President of the United States was.

We need to reclaim our authority. We have fought in war after war after war. As everyone knows, we haven't declared war since before all of us were born, since December 7, 1941, when President Roosevelt stood up right here and declared war. That was the last time.

I hope this will be the start of Congress taking back its constitutional power, not for the sake of having a fight with the executive branch, but for the sake of doing what we are supposed to do.

Congress has the power to declare war. Congress has the power to say what we do when it comes to war. We are taking that back today. We are saying that America will not be complicit in the wholesale beating down of civilian populations and looking the other way.

Let me say that again. Iran has fueled this conflict through its support for the Houthis, but the longer this conflict rages, the better it is for Iran. Iran thrives on every misstep of the Saudi-led coalition. A vote for this resolution is a vote to end the United States' involvement in this war, a war which helps Iran.

Let me say again, for Congress, this is an important step in reclaiming our role in foreign policy, by debating where and when the United States military is engaged abroad. With the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is critical that we act now. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting it.

Before I yield back, I want to, again, tell Mr. McCaul that we don't always agree on things. I think we agree on things more than we don't. But I do appreciate his earnest attempts with me to try to make foreign policy as bipartisan as we can. I think that is what we need to do.

We need to show unity in strength. In unity, there is strength. We are all Americans. We may disagree from time to time, but I think we are not going to be disagreeable. So I thank Mr. McCaul.

Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.