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Public Statements

Libya

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I rise to join the Senator from Massachusetts, who will shortly submit the product of many hours of bipartisan cooperation and negotiation, an authorization for the limited use of military force in Libya. The resolution, as will be introduced by my colleague from Massachusetts, as I mentioned, would authorize the President to employ the U.S. Armed Forces to advance U.S. national security interests in Libya as part of the international coalition that is enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions in Libya. It would limit this authority to 1 year, which is more than enough time to finish the job, and it makes clear that the Senate agrees with the President that there is no need and no desire to commit U.S. conventional ground forces in Libya.

I will be the first to admit that this authorization is not perfect and it will not make everyone happy. It does not fully make me happy. I would have preferred that this authorization make clear that our military mission includes the President's stated policy objective of forcing Qadhafi to leave power. I would have preferred that it urge the President to commit more U.S. strike aircraft to the mission in Libya so as to help bring this conflict to a close as soon as possible. And I would have preferred that it call on the President to recognize the Transitional National Council as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people so as to free Qadhafi's frozen assets for the Transitional National Council to use on behalf of the Libyan people. I have called on the administration to do all of these things for some time, and I do so now again.

That said, this authorization has been a bipartisan effort. My Republican colleagues and I have had to make compromises, just as have the Senator from Massachusetts and his Democratic colleagues. I believe the end result is an authorization that deserves the support of my colleagues in the Senate on both sides of the aisle, and I am confident they will support it.

I know the administration has made it clear that it believes it does not need a congressional authorization such as this because it is their view that U.S. military operations in Libya do not rise to the level of hostility. I believe this assertion will strike most of my colleagues and the Americans they represent as a confusing breach of common sense, and it seems to be undercut by the very report the administration sent to Congress which makes clear that U.S. Armed Forces have been and presumably will continue to fly limited strike missions to suppress enemy air defenses, to operate armed Predator drones that are attacking Qadhafi's forces in an effort to protect Libyan civilians, and to provide the overwhelming support for NATO operations, from intelligence to aerial refueling. Indeed, we read in today's New York Times that since the April 7 date that the administration claims to have ceased hostilities in Libya, U.S. warplanes have struck at Libyan air defenses on 60 occasions and fired about 30 missiles from unmanned drones.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks the article from today's New York Times entitled ``Scores of U.S. Strikes in Libya Follow Handoff to Libya.''

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 1.)

Mr. McCAIN. I certainly agree that actions such as these do not amount to a full-fledged state of war, and I will certainly grant that I am no legal scholar, but I find it hard to swallow that U.S. Armed Forces dropping bombs and killing enemy personnel in a foreign country does not amount to a state of hostilities.

What is worse, this is just the latest way in which this administration has mishandled its responsibility with regard to Congress. The President could have asked to authorize our intervention in Libya months ago, and I believe it could have received a strong, though certainly not unanimous, show of support.

The administration's disregard for the elected representatives of the American people on this matter has been troubling and counterproductive. The unfortunate result of this failure of leadership is plain to see in the full-scale revolt against the administration's Libya policy that is occurring in the House of Representatives. As I speak now, our colleagues in the House are preparing a measure that would cut off all funding for U.S. military operations in Libya, and they plan to vote on it in the coming days.

I know many were opposed to this mission from the beginning, and I respect their convictions. I myself have disagreed and disagreed strongly at
times with aspects of the administration's policy in Libya. But at the end of the day, I believe the President did the right thing by intervening to stop a looming humanitarian disaster in Libya.

Amid all our arguments over prudence, legality, and constitutionality of the administration's policy in Libya, we cannot forget the main point: In the midst of the most groundbreaking geopolitical event in two decades, as peaceful protests for democracy were sweeping the Middle East, with Qadhafi's forces ready to strike at the gates of Benghazi and with Arabs and Muslims in Libya and across the region pleading for the U.S. military to stop the bloodshed, the United States and our allies took action and prevented the massacre Qadhafi had promised to commit in a city of 700,000 people. By doing so, we began creating conditions that are increasing the pressure on Qadhafi to give up power.

Yes, the progress toward this goal has been slower than many had hoped and the administration is doing less to achieve it than I and others would like, but the bottom line is this: We are succeeding, Qadhafi is weakening. His military leaders and closest associates are abandoning him. NATO is increasing the tempo of its operations and degrading Qadhafi's military capabilities and command and control. The Transitional National Council is gaining international recognition and support and performing more effectively, and though their progress is uneven, opposition forces in Libya are making strategic gains on the ground.

We are all entitled to our opinions about Libya policy, but here are the facts. Qadhafi is going to fall. It is just a matter of time. So I ask my colleagues, is this the time for Congress to turn against this policy? Is this the time to ride to the rescue of a failing tyrant when the writing is on the wall that he will collapse? Is this the time for Congress to declare to the world, to Qadhafi and his inner circle, to all of the Libyans who are sacrificing to force Qadhafi from power, and to our NATO allies who are carrying a far heavier burden in this military operation than we are--is this the time for America to tell all of these different audiences that our heart is not in this, that we have neither the will nor the capability to see this mission through, that we will abandon our closest friends and allies on a whim? These are the questions every Member of Congress needs to think about long and hard but especially my Republican colleagues.

Many of us remember well the way some of our friends on the other side of the aisle savaged President Bush over the Iraq war and how they sought to do everything in their power to tie his hands and pull America out of that conflict. We were right to condemn that behavior then, and we would be wrong to practice it now ourselves simply because the leader of the opposite party occupies the White House. Someday--I hope soon--a Republican will again occupy the White House, and that President may need to commit U.S. armed forces to hostilities. So if my Republican colleagues are indifferent to how their actions would affect this President, I would urge them to think seriously about how a vote to cut off funding for this military operation can come back to haunt a future President when the shoe is on the other foot.

The House of Representatives will have its say on our involvement in Libya this week. The Senate has been silent for too long. It is time for the Senate to speak, and when that time comes I believe we will find a strong bipartisan majority in favor of authorizing our current military operations in Libya and seeing this mission through to success. That is the message Qadhafi needs to hear; it is a message Qadhafi's opponents, fighting to liberate their nation, need to hear; and it is a message America's friends and allies need to hear.

So let's debate this authorization, but then let's vote on it as soon as possible.

I wish to thank my colleague from Massachusetts for his hard work on this resolution. I understand he will be submitting it very soon. I hope the majority leader of the Senate will schedule a debate and vote on this resolution as soon as possible. It is long overdue.

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