Marco Rubio: Senate Democrats Should Support Bill To Strengthen Security In Middle East

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. delivered remarks on the Senate floor as Senate Democrats remained poised to vote against cloture on the motion for the Senate to begin consideration of the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (S.1). Rubio’s bill would strengthen U.S. security in Middle East, bolster the U.S. alliance with Israel, and sanction Syria’s dictatorship.

A partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks can be found below:

In about an hour and 15 minutes, the Senate is going to take up Senate bill 1, which is a combination of four separate bills that enjoy widespread support in this chamber from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, all of them sponsored, cosponsored by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And apparently we will fail to get a significant number of votes to get on this bill, nonetheless.

So it is perhaps one of the few places on Earth where people vote against things they are for, for reasons unrelated to the issue at hand. And I don’t want to dig too deep into that. That will be a topic for conversation later on. Maybe I will be wrong. Maybe they will change their mind here in the next hour and 15 minutes and we’ll be able to have the votes we need, but I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense to say I’m upset about the Government Shutdown, by the way, the Senate voted to fund the Government unanimously. We had a voice vote. We didn’t even have a roll call vote. So this chamber is already active in that regard. At this point it’s incumbent on the leaders of the democratic party here in the senate to reopen the government. this government shutdown is not good for anybody.

About three weeks ago, the President announced that the United States was withdrawing from our engagement in Syria, and I think the majority of people in the Senate believe that that decision was a mistake and is a mistake. And while I was certainly encouraged by some of the comments by the the head of the national security council, John Bolton, Ambassador Bolton on sort of the pace and scale and scope of the withdrawal, nonetheless, there has been conflicting statements since then which puts this all in question. And at the time he made this decision, we walked through all of the reasons why this was a mistake, not because we want to be at war in Syria forever. That’s false. Of course it has to come to an end, but it needs to come to an end in a way that’s in the interest of the United States of America. And it is not in the interest of the United States of America to see ISIS reemerge the way they did after 2011 when the United States left Iraq.

The saddest part about that, of course, is that this diminishes the chances that Assad will ever have to face accountability for the crimes committed by his regime against innocent civilians and children, women, and others through not just gassing and use of chemical weapons but the widespread torture and murder. We’ll discuss that more as the week goes on.

Also concerned about Iran’s growing influence with the U.S. leaving, especially in southeast Iraq and on the border of Jordan and Israel. Hezbollah, other Iranian proxies and Iran itself, or the IRGC, and General Soleimani, who’s a maven of murder in that area. Basically doing whatever they want, more freedom of movement and a direct threat that it poses to both Israel and to Jordan. And by the way, when the Turks come in, when potentially Iraqi troops come in, when ISIS reconstituted and starts killing again, you’re going to have new refugee flows. Maybe it will be mostly Kurds this time, maybe folks from the Syrian Defense Forces who fought alongside us for a while and their families. but where are all these new refugees going to go? Potentially some will wind up in Jordan, further destabilizing, testing that country’s ability to deal with all this.

Congress can stop wars. Congress can defund them, de-authorize actions, but Congress cannot force the Commander in Chief to stay in a military engagement. We cannot force the president to deploy troops or keep them somewhere. We can keep them from doing it but we can’t force him to do it. So our options in this field are limited, but we wanted to do something. We felt so strongly about this. And the response is Senate bill 1, which is the item before us here today. And Senate bill 1, as I said, combined these four elements, four bills that enjoy widespread bipartisan support. And would you think in the midst of everything else that’s going on, this would be a really good way to start the new Congress. On foreign policy, in an area that traditionally has not been partisan or shouldn’t have been. Combining these four bills into one, Senate bill 1 which is what’s before us today. And I want to briefly outline the four provisions that were combined in this bill. two of them deal directly with our ally in Israel.

First, it says that it makes very clear that it shall be the policy of the United States to provide assistance to the government of Israel in order to support funding for cooperative programs to develop, produce, and procure missiles, rockets, projectiles and other defense capabilities to help Israel meet its security needs and to help develop and enhance US defense capabilities. That last line is important. Because much of the technology that’s being innovated and developed by Israel to defend Israel can also be used by the United States to protect us from rocket attack there or when we’re deployed abroad. The reason why this is so critical is Hezbollah who has a large presence in Syria and their base of operation in Lebanon. Hezbollah today is better funded, better equipped, more armaments than at any time in its history. We all recall the Hezbollah-Israel war from about over a decade and a half ago. The next Israel-Hezbollah war will be far deadly and costly, because this Hezbollah no longer simply depends on Iran for the weapons. They make it themselves. Hezbollah no longer has a few rockets, It has enough to potentially overwhelm defenses.

Another thing it does, by the way, is the Combating BDS Act of 2019. For those who are not familiar with BDS, it’s boycott, divestment and sanction. It is an effort by in large to punish Israel by convincing companies, international companies and others to boycott doing business with Israel or Israeli entities, to divest of investments in Israel or Israeli entities and convincing governments to sanction Israel. And so this provision of the law does not outlaw, boycott, divestment and sanctions. If a United States company caves to this pressure and decides it’s going to boycott or divest from Israel, they have the legal right to do so. This doesn’t outlaw it. But it does say, however, it does say that if a state or local government decides that it’s not going to do business, if the government is not going to issue contracts for goods or services with any company that is boycotting or divesting from Israel, they have a right to do that.

In addition the third thing this bill does is it deals with Jordan. Jordan is a U.S. ally. It is by the way a nation that along with Egypt has been a linchpin of Israel’s security in the region. And it is also a nation that has faced an onslaught of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. They face the threat from ISIS as well. And in Senate bill 1, we re-authorize the U.S. Jordan Defense Cooperation Act that was passed in 2015, an act that among other things includes Jordan on the list of countries that are eligible for certain streamlined defense sales. Because Jordan itself is facing many of the same challenges, particularly because of our pullout from Syria.

The last piece is one that was sponsored by the soon to-be Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Risch – the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. And what it does, three principle things: it requires the Treasury to determine whether the Central Bank of Syria is a financial institution that launders money for the regime. I’m not sure it will take them long to conclude that they are. But, that opens the door for the second thing it does: and that is, new sanctions against anyone who does business with or provides financing to the Syrian regime. It also, by the way, requires the Administration to brief us in Congress as part of our oversight role on what our strategy is to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian products and humanitarian assistance inside Syria.

Hopefully we’ll be on this bill, but as the week goes on, I sadly will have to come to the floor and point out the horrifying atrocities that have been committed that I believe 50 and a hundred years from now people will look back at as one of the most horrifying things that have happened in this century. And the people who have done this should be held to account. And this law puts in place not just requiring the administration to tell us what they plan to do in the short term to help people to the extent possible, but also puts in place the ability to hold those who have done this responsible and accountable for what they did and what they continue to do. So I sincerely hope we can get on this because the American people in the face of all this noise that’s out there are in desperate need of reassurance that our republic still works, that at a minimum we can still agree on what we agree on, and we don’t use the pretext of a shutdown to shut down the Senate.

I don’t believe that shutting down the senate and not allowing us to move forward on something as important as Syria policy is the way to resolve a shutdown issue. You don’t solve a shutdown with a shutdown. And shutting down the Senate saying we’re not doing anything here until we resolve this issue is not a constructive approach and it’s certainly not the way to start this new Congress. At a time when I think the Senate serves a role as important as it has in two decades, this country needs a senate that’s capable of new of functioning and agreeing on the things we agree on, passing bills that have broad support and not allowing them to fall victim to debates that are unrelated to the issue at hand.

And so I remind all of my colleagues who just two or three weeks ago joined me and others in criticizing the decision to draw down from Syria that there isn’t a lot we can do in Congress to force the President to stay there, but there are some things we can do to reassure our allies in the region that at least here in the U.S. Senate, they have our support. That Israel and Jordan and the innocent people who have been tortured and killed in Syria have our support. And we have a bill in Senate, Senate bill 1 that does that. I don’t know why we would not move forward to at least debate it. The vote we’re taking in 59 minutes from now is not a vote to pass it. It is just a vote to begin debate on it. That’s all it is. It’s a vote to begin debate on it. To not even allow debate to begin on something we basically, largely agree on, it may make a lot of sense in the hallways here but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to men and women back home. Who are already watching the government shutdown with disdain and then on top of it, seeing not even the Senate can function in the midst of all of this. So I hope that whether it’s today or later this week that my colleagues will reconsider their objection to even beginning debate so we can get on this and can get to work on behalf of the men and women of this country that we work for and represent.

 

Marco Rubio was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010.

 

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