Kaine blisters Senate colleagues for playing politics on national security
In remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-sponsor of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, called for Congress to “pull back from the brink of irresponsible and partisan action” and seek a constructive path to engage on the Iran nuclear negotiations, criticizing a partisan letter sent to Iran’s leaders yesterday that was signed by 47 Senate Republicans.
“Yesterday,” Kaine said, “we all awoke to the news that there had been a partisan letter of 47 Senators…not to the President saying ‘we have concerns about a deal and we’re going to weigh in,’ but instead to the leader of a nation that we characterize as a terrorist state, presuming to instruct the nation about what Congress might or might not do, widely viewed as an effort to undercut or dilute diplomatic negotiations that are in the best tradition of our country – the notion of diplomacy.”
“I deeply believe that this body, Senate and Congress generally, have to pull back from the brink of irresponsible and partisan action with respect to these critical security questions because the stakes are simply too high,” Kaine continued. “I deeply believe we should not try to tank a deal, critique a deal, undercut a deal before there is a deal.”
In closing, Kaine made the case for the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which would require congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, after a final deal has been reached.
“Why don’t we do what we’re supposed to do as the greatest deliberative body in the world? Why don’t we allow negotiators, who have been working in the best traditions of American diplomacy, to see if they can find a deal and then put it on the table for the review of Congress, as has always been contemplated?” Kaine asked. “I am a proud original cosponsor and worked on the draftsmanship of a bipartisan bill that was introduced under the key sponsorship of Foreign Relations Chair Senator Corker and Ranking Member Senator Menendez to guarantee to Congress an appropriate review of any final deal with Iran over their nuclear program, if such a deal is reached.”
Full transcript of Kaine’s remarks is below:
Mr. President, I rise to address a question to myself and every member of this body, and the question is this-it’s a serious one: Is the Senate capable of tackling challenging national security questions in a mature and responsible way?
We have many hard national security challenges before us now. Three are urgent: The discussions about a potential nuclear deal with Iran, the discussions in this body about military action by the United States against ISIL, and the deliberations that will take place this month about the American budget, which will determine whether we have the resources we need to meet our security challenges.
We have got to show the American public and, I would argue, the world that we can give these issues the careful consideration they deserve. But, Mr. President, I am forced to admit that recent events have caused me to have some significant doubts about our institutional capacity to tackle these issues in a responsible way.
We recently, at the end of February, ran up to the very brink of shutting down the Department of Homeland Security at a time when terrorist threats and other threats to our homeland security are so obvious on our borders and all throughout the world. Thank goodness after a week extension of funding for homeland security, we pulled back from the brink but that did not lead to an increase in confidence in this body that Congress would contemplate not funding the Department of Homeland Security.
Last week, there was a joint address to congress by Prime Minister Netanyahu. I spent many hours conversing with Prime Minister Netanyahu in his office about Iran and other topics, but I’m sad to just look at that joint address and basically say that it was history-making in some unfortunate ways. Congress has heard from the Prime Minister or President of Israel seven times in the last 50 years, eight times if you count last week, but last week’s address was unusual because it was designed in a partisan way, an invitation by the leadership of one party with an intentional decision not to let the White House know, not to let the minority party in Congress know and to schedule the speech within the days before a contested foreign election, leading many to conclude that it was an effort by Congress to affect a foreign election, which we should never do.
Following that speech, a carefully worked-out bipartisan bill that has been introduced in Congress to give Congress an appropriate review role over any potential Iranian nuclear deal was hijacked basically. Instead of allowing the bill to go through Congress, there was a decision to force the bill to a floor for an immediate vote, which was seen by all as a partisan move. It was described by one of the sponsors of the bill, one of the Republican sponsors of the bill, as an effort to embarrass Democrats. Now thank goodness at the end of the day that effort to accelerate consideration of what was a bipartisan bill was pulled back, and we will not be doing that this week. We will be allowing a normal committee process, but the fact that the effort was made did damage to reasonable bipartisan consideration of this important issue.
And then yesterday we all awoke to the news that there had been a partisan letter of 47 senators, 47 of my colleagues, many of whom I work with very closely, not to the President saying “we have concerns about a deal and we’re going to weigh in.” But instead, to the leader of a nation that we characterize as a terrorist state, presuming to instruct the nation about what Congress might or might not do, widely viewed as an effort to undercut or dilute diplomatic negotiations that are in the best tradition of our country, the notion of diplomacy.
I just came from hearings this morning in the Armed Services Committee where we heard what we’ve heard for 2 1/2 years, advice from our military leadership to the Senate that sequester is hurting our national defense. “Will you finally listen to us? Will you do something about it?”
And taken together, all these events of the last few weeks suggest a Senate—the possibility, a sad possibility of a Senate that will elevate partisan political division over careful and constructive deliberation even on the most critical security issues that affect the security of our country and the world.
I deeply believe that this body, Senate and Congress generally, have to pull back from the brink of irresponsible and partisan action with respect to these critical security questions because the stakes are simply too high.
With respect to the Iranian nuclear negotiation, I share many of the concerns of my colleagues, of the 47 who wrote the letter. I share many of the concerns of the Prime Minister that were shared in the speech last week. But I deeply believe we should not try to tank a deal, critique a deal, undercut a deal before there is a deal. Because to the extent that there’s efforts to stand and say, “this is a bad deal,” before there is a deal, the message that is communicated to the American public and to the world is, “We will never accept any deal. We are not interested in diplomacy. We are not interested in negotiation.” And that attitude plays directly into the hands of the nation of Iran which is currently engaging in terrorist activity. They would want to be able to blame the absence of any deal on an intransigent United States that is unwilling to negotiate in good faith. We shouldn’t tank a deal before there is a deal.
Instead, why don’t we do what we’re supposed to do as the greatest deliberative body in the world? Why don’t we allow negotiators, who have been working in the best traditions of American diplomacy, to see if they can find a deal and then put it on the table for the review of Congress, as has always been contemplated? I am a proud original cosponsor and worked on the draftsmanship of a bipartisan bill that was introduced under the key sponsorship of Foreign Relations Chair Senator Corker and Ranking Member Senator Menendez to guarantee to Congress an appropriate review of any final deal with Iran over their nuclear program, if such a deal is reached.
This is a bill that is rigorously bipartisan, not partisan, not political, not rushed, not accelerated, rigorously bipartisan. It respects the ongoing process by allowing the negotiators to do their work and see if they can find an outcome. It guarantees Congress a debate and vote if a deal includes relief under the congressional sanctions that Congress has enacted over the years. It is appropriately deferential to the executive, allowing the executive the flexibility to do sanctions relief under executive or international sanctions that have not been part of any congressional statute.
This is a bipartisan bill that provides some assurance to allies—our allies in the region, allies that are most affected by the Iranian nuclear ambitions, are not part of the P-5 Plus 1, whether you’re talking about Israel or gulf states or Jordan, the nations most affected by Iranian nuclear ambitions are not part of the P-5 Plus 1—and the Corker-Menendez bill would give them some comfort that a deal, if announced, would receive some careful scrutiny in this body. And finally, the Corker-Menendez bipartisan approach even provides, I think, some important assurances to Iran in the negotiation. We want Iran to make not small concessions. We want them to make big and bold concessions and give up any intent to develop nuclear weapons. But what is the likelihood that Iran will make those concessions if they have no knowledge about what Congress’ intent is vis-a-vis the congressional statutory provisions?
There’s a right way and a wrong way to approach these matters. To rush it, to ban it, to label a deal as a bad deal before there is a deal, to make it entirely partisan rather than bipartisan, reflecting the will of the body, is an effort to undercut negotiations that weakens our president, weakens our country, weakens our credibility. Whereas if we proceed in a bipartisan way, we can make the deal stronger.
Similarly, and then I want to cede a moment to my colleague, the Senator from Maine, we are about to start work on another critically important issue—whether Congress should finally, after seven-plus months, have a debate to authorize an ongoing war against the Islamic State and the Levant that was begun on Eight of August by the President. We are now in the eighth month of a unilateral war and, aside from a Foreign Relations Committee vote in committee in December, Congress has not had a meaningful vote or debate on this fundamental responsibility.
We owe it to ourselves, to this institution. We owe it to the important national security interests at stake. And especially we owe it to the people who are risking their lives in this war—and we’ve already had deaths of American service members as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. We owe it to them to show that we can have a meaningful debate that is not partisan, that is not rushed, but that is careful and deliberate because they’ve been waiting for seven-plus months to see whether Congress even cares.
We’re at war by a presidential act, does Congress even care enough to have the debate on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives? Is it just partisanship now? Is it just delay now? Does the fact that our service men and women are risking their lives even matter to us now? This is the debate that we will be entering into within the next few days starting with the hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow. We can’t afford, on important issues of national security like Iran or like the war against ISIL, to send the impression to our troops, to our citizens, to our global citizens around the world that, on these important matters, Congress is now just a partisan sort of sideshow rather than deliberative body we were set up to be. We’ve got to find a bipartisan path forward on these—on these important security issues or we weaken confidence in the institution and the leadership of this country.
In conclusion, Mr. President, the national security interests that are at stake right now before us are fundamental, whether it’s about Iran, whether it’s about the battle against ISIL, or whether it’s about the budgetary deliberations that we’ll be undertaking this month—a budgetary deliberation that will determine whether we can meet our commitments in these national security challenges or not. We’ve got to get these debates right for the good of our country and the world, and we have to get them right to demonstrate to all that this institution does have the mature ability to tackle these issues in a reasonable way.
With that, Mr. President, I would like to yield the last minute or so of my comments to my colleague from Maine, Senator King.