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Directing the Removal of United States Armed Forces From Hostilities Against the Islamic Republic of Iran That Have Not Been Authorized By Congress--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Date: Feb. 12, 2020
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Foreign Affairs


Mr. KAINE. Res. 68.


Mr. KAINE. be equally divided between the two leaders or their designees.


Mr. KAINE. Madam President, I now rise to speak to the body in favor of the bipartisan War Powers Resolution, S.J. Res. 68, which is now pending before the Senate.

Before I address the resolution, I want to acknowledge the combat deaths of SFC Javier Gutierrez and SFC Antonio Rodriguez. Both of these Army sergeants, sergeants first class, were 28-year-olds who were killed last week in Afghanistan. While the incident is still under investigation, it appears that they were killed by a member of the Afghan security forces or somebody posing as a member of the Afghan security forces. As we know well, this is a security force that the United States has armed, equipped, and trained for 19 years.

Sergeant Gutierrez leaves behind a wife, Gabby, and four children, ages 2 through 7. His grandfather was a POW during World War II, and his father was a marine. He had previously deployed both to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sergeant Rodriguez leaves behind a wife, Ronaleen. He had previously deployed to Afghanistan 10 times. I thought that was a misprint when I read it--a 28-year-old who had previously deployed to Afghanistan 10 times before he was killed.

We honor their memories and send our condolences to their families as well.

The resolution before the body today is about Congress reclaiming its rightful role in decisions about war. The resolution is pretty simple: We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress votes to authorize such a war.

While the President does and must always have the ability to defend the United States from imminent attack, the Executive power to initiate war stops there. An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote.

This should not be a controversial proposition. It is clearly stated in the Constitution we pledge to support and defend. The principle is established there for a most important reason. If we are to order our men and women, like Sergeants Rodriguez and Gutierrez, to risk their lives and health in war, it should be on the basis of careful deliberation by the people's elected legislature and not on the say-so of any one person.

Congressional deliberation educates the American public about what are the stakes, what are the stakes involved in any proposed war.

Congressional deliberation allows Members of Congress to ask tough questions about the need for war, about the path to victory, and about how a victory can be sustained. And if following that public deliberation, there is a vote of Congress for war, it represents a clear statement that a war is in the national interest and that the efforts of our troops are supported by a clear political consensus. We should not allow this important process to be short-circuited.

Our Framers believed that the congressional deliberation would be the best antidote to unnecessary escalation.

I have spoken often about this topic on the floor during the 7 years I have been in the Senate, and I don't want to repeat arguments that I have made dozens and dozens of times here, but I do want to address at least three objections that I have made to this resolution.

First, there is an objection that says the bipartisan resolution is ``an effort to restrain President Trump's powers.'' This is not a resolution about the President. The resolution does not say anything about President Trump or any President. It is a resolution about Congress.

I want a President that will fully inhabit the article II powers of Commander in Chief, but as a Member of the Article I branch, I want an article I branch that would fully inhabit the article I powers, including the sole power to declare war. This is not an effort to restrain President Trump or some other President. This is not an effort by a Democrat to point a finger or to restrain Republicans. No. In the history of this country, even in recent history, I believe we have often gotten it wrong with respect to the initiation of war, whether the President was a Democrat or Republican or whether the majority in Congress was Democratic or Republican.

The legislative branch, article I, has allowed too much power to devolve to the Executive in this fundamental question of whether the Nation should be at war. This is not directed toward President Trump. It would apply equally to any President. It is fundamentally about Congress owning up to and taking responsibility for the most significant decisions that we should ever have to make.

A second argument against the bill that I have heard made on the floor in recent days is that it would send a message of weakness to Iran or to other adversaries. I have to admit, I am more interested in the message that we send to the American public and to our troops and to our families. That is the message I am most interested in.

As a father of a marine and as a Senator from a State that is just chock-full of Active-Duty Guard and Reserve veterans, DOD civilian and DOD contractor military families, this bill sends a very strong and powerful message to our public and to our troops and their families that before we get into a war, there will be a careful deliberation about whether it is necessary.

That is a message of comfort. That is a message that can give our own public and our troops confidence, but to the extent that we want to consider the message this might send to Iran and adversaries, I do not think that America sends a message of weakness when we proudly hold ourselves up as a nation of laws, and we pledge to follow the law when it comes to the monumental question about whether or not we should be at war.

In fact, I believe we are most effective in countering our adversaries--and, face it, most of our adversaries are authoritarian states which do not honor the rule of war--when we send a clear message that, in this country, we will stand for democratic principles, such as the rule of law, and we will follow those principles when we are making momentous decisions, such as whether or not we should be at war.

A third objection I have heard is this: It sends a message that America is not likely to use military force, a message that, thereby, might embolden bad actors. I find this argument bewildering.

I don't think anyone in the world questions whether America will use military force. We have been engaged in a war against nonstate terrorism now for 19 years. The pages in this body have known nothing but war. These two 28-year-olds who were just killed last year, they virtually knew nothing other than war during their whole lives.

Is America willing to use military action? We have been in a war for 19 years. We are losing troops on the battlefield--like Sergeants Rodriguez and Gutierrez--to this very day. We have tens and thousands of troops deployed around the world to fight a war against terrorism, and the current President is increasing the total footprint of those troops in the Middle East to prosecute this fight.

In Afghanistan alone, where these two sergeants were killed, we are spending $45 billion a year. It is 19 years later, and we are still spending $45 billion a year to prosecute this fight. No one can question whether the United States will protect itself or our allies, but the choice of when to fight wars and when to use other available tools is always a question of such importance that the most careful deliberation is warranted.

As I conclude, I just want to say this. I went and visited the Hampton veterans hospital last Friday as part of just, sort of, a regular visit maybe once a year just to check in with the Hampton VA, which is one of three VAs in Virginia, to see what they are doing. I know every Member of the Senate does the same thing, visiting VA hospitals in their States and elsewhere--going to see our veterans at Walter Reed, for example, or going to see wounded warriors who are at the hospital at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Any visit of that kind produces a million emotions: pride in service providers, pride in resilience of our veterans as they are grappling with challenging illnesses and disabilities in their lives, often long after they have served. The one impression that is always vivid when you visit a veterans hospital is this: the enduring consequences of war.

As I visited the Hampton VA, I spent time in, sort of, two particular units. One is a women's clinic. We have so many more women veterans, and a number of VAs that were not set up very well to deal with women are now having to really build out the capacity to deal with the growing number of women veterans and the issues that they are bringing to the table. I applaud what I saw in Hampton at the women's clinic.

I also spent time in the mental health unit that is trying to pioneer new technologies, magnetic imaging, to help people deal with some of the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan war: traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

We make a promise to these veterans that we will be there for them, even when we don't fully know the consequences of the promise we make because they don't know the consequences of what they will experience and suffer.

A signature aspect of the Iraq and Afghan wars that really doesn't have an earlier precedent is the 10-deployments phenomena. In what earlier war that this country fought do we have 28-year-old sergeants who are serving their 11th deployment in a theater of war? Those repeated deployments have a long consequence in the life of a person and in the life of those close to that person.

Madam President knows this from her own service: When you go to the VA and you grapple with the long consequences of war, it has to make an impression upon those of us in this body charged with the sole responsibility for declaring war that, if and when we do so, we owe it the most careful deliberation that we bring to any question that would ever result in the loss of lives. That is not too much to ask for us to deliberate carefully when what is at risk for those who serve, who depend upon us to make the best possible decision, are consequences that will last their own lifetimes and affect the lives of so many others.

That is what this resolution is about. I don't believe it should be controversial. It is certainly bipartisan, and I hope we will stand up for this important proposition that the careful deliberation of the Senate is the most necessary thing we can do and what we owe to our troops and their families.