FLOOR STATEMENT BY SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY ON IRAQ SUPPLEMENTAL
(As Prepared for Delivery)
May 9, 2005
Mr. President, I intend to support the Iraq spending bill. Although I disagree strongly with some of the bill's provisions, these funds are clearly needed for our troops. All of us support our troops. We obviously want to do all that we can to see that they have proper equipment, vehicles, and everything else they need to protect their lives as they carry out their missions.
It's scandalous that the Administration has kept sending them into battle in Iraq without proper equipment. No soldier should be sent into battle unprotected. No parents should have to go in desperation to the local Wal-Mart to buy armored plates and mail them to their sons and daughters serving in Iraq.
Our military is performing brilliantly under enormously difficult circumstances and we need to give them our support-not just from our words but our pockets too.
One aspect of this bill that I am particularly proud of is the increased funding for humvees for our troops on patrol in Iraq. The Bayh- Kennedy Amendment adds enough additional funds to keep production at increased levels. Some opponents claimed that the Army already had enough armored humvees, and objected to any further increase.
But a front-page article in the New York Times on April 25th told us the troops' side of the real need for more armor, and the difference it can make. Company E, a Marine Corps unit based at Camp Pendleton, returned from six-months in Ramadi last year, and its members were so frustrated with this problem that they decided to tell their story.
They did not have enough armored vehicles. 13 of the 21 Marines from Company E who were killed in Iraq had been riding in humvees that failed to protect them from bullets or bombs.
They saw problems up close. A year ago, eight of them were killed when their humvee was ambushed on the way to aid another unit under fire. The cargo section of the humvee where the troops were riding didn't even have "hillbilly armor" to protect them from the blast. They were totally unprotected. As one Marine described the attack, "All I saw was sandbags, blood and dead bodies. There was no protection in the back."
Captain Kelly Royer, Company E's unit commander asked his superiors when he would be getting more armored humvees. He was told that the additional armor hadn't been requested, and that there were production constraints. Another Marine says they complained about the shortages "every day, to anybody we could. They told us they were listening, but we didn't see it."
These Marines on the frontline knew the armor meant the difference between life and death-the difference between an essential mission and a suicide mission. They were desperate to get more armor. Day after day, they saw the brutal consequences of the Pentagon's incompetence and delay.
The "lessons learned" from the war in Iraq are said to help us in future conflicts, but for all forces facing death every day, the future was yesterday.
In fact, the Marines are requesting funds for the coming fiscal year to develop and produce new armored vehicles to avoid these deadly threats.
The need is so clear that the request was submitted under the Marine Corps' Urgent Universal Need Statement, which was created to streamline the acquisition process and get equipment to the field faster. They have a plan to meet the future need-but what about the urgent need today?
We do not have the luxury of time to wait for these new vehicles to roll off a future assembly line. The need for armored humvees is now. The hillbilly armor they scavenge for and add to their unprotected humvees does not provide adequate protection.
The Army says that of the new requirement approved this month, none of it is designated for the Marine Corps. The Pentagon refuses to make this a top priority. They continue to drag their feet.
In a report to Congress this month, the Government Accountability Office describes month after month after month of mismanagement by the Pentagon in supplying the armored humvees our troops urgently need to carry out their missions and stay alive.
The GAO report found that the Army still has no long term plan to increase the number of armored humvees. The war in Iraq has been going on for two full years. Our troops are under fire every day, and the Pentagon still doesn't have a plan to protect them.
In a briefing prepared by the Marines for Congress, they specifically state in their Vehicle Hardening Strategy that "funding assistance is required to achieve optimum levels of armor protection."
The GAO report clearly points out that the Pentagon's bureaucratic mentality infected its decisions. They tried to solve the problem in a slow and gradual manner, instead of solving it quickly. As the GAO report states, there were two primary causes for the shortages of armored vehicles. "First, a decision was made to pace production, rather than use the maximum available capacity. Second, funding allocations did not keep up with rapidly increasing requirements."
It is equally obvious that in addition to the bureaucratic mentality at the Pentagon, their cakewalk mentality is also a major part of the problem. Week after week, month after month, they refuse to believe that the insurgency would continue. They want to believe it will soon be over. They don't feel they need to waste dollars on armored humvees that soon won't be needed in Iraq. So month after month, our troops keep paying with their lives. The light the Pentagon sees at the end of the tunnel turns out to be the blinding flash of another roadside bomb exploding under another unprotected humvee in Iraq. They can't even get their story right. Armor Holdings-the company that makes the armored Humvee-told my office recently that its current contract with the Army will actually mean sharp cutbacks in production. Right now, they produce 550 armored Humvees a month. Their contract reduces that number to 239 in June, zero in July, then back to 40 in August, and 71 in September. The company is now negotiating for slightly higher levels of production in June, July, and August, but it still expects to decrease production to 71 by September. What possible justification can there be for the Pentagon to slow down current production so drastically in the months ahead, when armored humvees are so urgently needed?
The Pentagon keeps saying, "We'll work it out." On nine different occasions, we have asked the Pentagon for their requirements for humvees, and nine times they have been wrong.
This bill tells the Department of Defense we won't let them get it wrong a tenth time. For the sake of our troops, Congress
acted, and the Pentagon should not ignore it. The contract should be amended immediately to obtain maximum possible production of armored humvees for the months ahead. Our troops are waiting for our answer, and their lives depend on it.
Another important part of this bill will be the periodic report it requires on the progress our forces are making in Iraq. Our military is performing brilliantly under enormously difficult circumstances. But they don't want-and the American people don't want-an open-ended commitment. After all the blunders that took us into war, we need to be certain that the President has a strategy for success.
The $5.7 billion in this bill for training Iraqi Security Forces is a key element of a successful strategy to stabilize Iraq and withdraw American forces.
The report will provide the straight answer that we have not had before about how many Iraqi security forces are adequately trained and equipped. We're obviously making progress, but it's far from clear how much. The American people deserve an honest assessment that provides the basic facts.
But that's not what we've been given so far. According to a GAO report in March, "U.S. government agencies do not report reliable data on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped."
The report goes on to say, "The Departments of State and Defense no longer report on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are equipped with their required weapons, vehicles, communications, equipment, and body armor."
It's clear from the Administration's own statements that they're using the notorious "fuzzy math" tactic to avoid an honest appraisal.
On February 4, 2004, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "We have accelerated the training of Iraqi security forces, now more than 200,000 strong."
A year later, on January 19, 2005, Secretary Condoleezza Rice said that "We think the number right now is somewhere over 120,000."
On February 3, 2005, in response to questions from Senator Levin at a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conceded that only 40,000 Iraqi security forces are actually capable. He said, "48 deployable (battalions) around the country, equals about 40,000, which is the number that can go anywhere and do anything."
Obviously, we need a better accounting of how much progress is being made to train and equip effective Iraqi Security forces.
The President's commitment to keeping American troops in Iraq as long as it takes and not a day longer is not enough for our soldiers and their loved ones. They deserve a clearer indication of what lies ahead, and so do the American people.
I'm encouraged that the Administration is finally being required by this bill to tell Congress how many U.S. troops will be necessary in Iraq through the end of 2006. The American people-and especially our men and women in uniform and their families- deserve to know how much real progress is being made in training Iraqi troops and how long our forces will be in Iraq. Hopefully, the Administration will submit these reports in good faith, and not attempt to classify this vital information.
Another important aspect of the bill is the change in the number of H-2B visas for seasonal workers. The Senate voted 96-4 in favor of an amendment sponsored by Senator Mikulski and myself to provide additional visas for the current year. These visas are a lifeline for small family businesses on Cape Cod and many other firms that rely overwhelmingly on seasonal workers to meet their heavy summer needs. Many use the program year after year, because it is the only way to legally fill temporary and seasonal positions when no American workers are available. Without this amendment, they'll be out of luck this summer, and many will be out of business.
This legislative change is designed to be a short-term solution to the current visa crisis, in anticipation of comprehensive immigration reform to fix the long-term problem. This bill has a two-year fix. It does not raise the cap. It simply exempts returning workers who have played by the rules. Employees who have worked here before and returned to their home country are given the opportunity to return to the US to work another season under the H-2B visa program. Without it, many businesses will be forced to shut their doors.
I appreciate the support of my colleagues on this important issue. We are one step closer to filling the labor needs of so many hard-working small businesses and industries across the country
Unfortunately, not all the immigration provisions included in the bill have this kind of broad support.
Included in the conference agreement are the so-called Real ID immigration provisions that are highly controversial, harmful, and unnecessary. The Intelligence Reform Act we approved overwhelmingly last year provides real border security solutions. The so-called Real ID bill added by the House to this spending bill, contains controversial provisions we rejected last year and likely would have rejected again if we had been given a chance to debate them on the floor of the Senate. They're a false solution on border security, and they serve no purpose except to push an anti-immigrant agenda. More than ever, we need to take the time to get border security reform right, as opposed to pushing through legislation to meet the demands of anti-immigrant extremists. The stakes are simply too great.
In addition to the numerous substantive problems with the Real ID, the process through which they have been forced into this
conference report is flawed and unacceptable. The Republican leadership in the House and Senate shut Democrats out of the conference negotiations. Why? Because the House bill has controversial provisions that have questionable support in the Senate and with the American people. Strong-arm tactics are offensive and do a great deal of disservice to the important issues of our time. The White House too, once rejected these provisions, yet, they now support them. What important issues will the White House flip-flop on next?
Those who pushed through these Real ID provisions continue to say that loopholes exist in our immigration and asylum laws that are being exploited by terrorists. They claim these provisions will close them. In fact, they do nothing to improve national security, and leave other big issues unresolved.
They want us to believe that its changes will keep terrorists from being granted asylum. But current immigration laws already bar persons engaged in terrorist activity from asylum. Before they receive asylum, all applicants must also undergo extensive security checks, covering all terrorist and criminal databases at the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the CIA.
Asylum seekers will find no refuge. Battered women and victims of stalking will be forced to divulge their addresses in order to get driver's licenses, potentially endangering their lives. Many Americans will have other problems with their driver's license. All legal requirements, including labor laws, can now be waived to build a wall. For the first time since the Civil War, habeas corpus will be prohibited. The Real ID provisions contain other broad and sweeping changes to laws that go to the core of our national identity.
Each year, countless refugees are forced to leave their countries, fleeing persecution. America has always been a haven for those desperate for such protection. At the very beginning of our history, the refugee Pilgrims seeking religious freedom landed on Plymouth Rock. Ever since, we've welcomed refugees, and it's made us a better nation. Refugees represent the best of American values. They have stood alone, at great personal cost, against hostile governments for fundamental principles like freedom of speech and religion. We have a responsibility to examine our asylum policies carefully, to see that they are fair and just.
But, the Real ID bill tramples this noble tradition and will be devastating for legitimate asylum-seekers fleeing persecution. It will make it more difficult for victims fleeing serious human rights abuses to obtain asylum and safety, and could easily lead to their return to their persecutors.
Another section of conference report contains a provision that would complete the US-Mexico border fence in San Diego. But it goes much farther than that. It gives the Department of Homeland security unprecedented and unchecked authority to waive all legal requirements necessary to build such fences, not only in San Diego, but anywhere else along our 2000 mile border with Mexico and our 4000 mile border with Canada. Building such fences will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and they still won't stop illegal immigration. What we need are safe and legal avenues for immigrants to come here and work, not more walls.
A major additional problem in the Real ID provisions is that it could result in the deportation even of long-time legal permanent residents, for lawful speech or associations that occurred twenty years ago or more. It raises the burden of proof to nearly impossible levels in numerous cases.
A person who made a donation to a humanitarian organization involved in Tsunami relief could be deported if the organization or any of its affiliates was ever involved in violence. The burden would be on the donor to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he knew nothing about any of these activities. The spouse and children of a legal permanent resident could also be deported too based on such an accusation, because of their relationship to the donor.
The provision could be applied retroactively, so that a permanent resident who had once supported the lawful, nonviolent work of the African National Congress in South Africa, Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, or the contras in Nicaragua would be deportable. It would be no defense to show that the only support was for lawful nonviolent activity. It would be no defense to show that the United States itself supported some of these groups.
The driver's license provisions don't make us safer either. Let me explain what these provisions really do. They repeal a section of the Intelligence Reform Act which sets up a process for states and the federal government to work together to establish federal standards for driver's licenses and identification cards. Progress is already being made to implement these important measures, but this bill replaces them with highly problematic and burdensome requirements. The National Conference of State Legislatures says that these provisions are "unworkable, unproven, costly mandates that compel States to enforce federal immigration policy rather than advance the paramount objective of making State-issued identity documents more secure and verifiable."
Indeed, it is a costly unfunded mandate on the states. The CBO estimate on the implementation of the driver's license provisions is $20 million over a 5-year period to reimburse states for complying with the legislation. But, that is not all; the provisions require states to participate in an interstate database that would share information at a cost of $80 million over 3 years.
The driver's license provisions do nothing to address the threat of terrorists or to address legitimate security concerns. It would not have prevented a single 9/11 hijacker from obtaining a driver's license, or a single terrorist from boarding a plane. All 13 hijackers could have obtained licenses or IDs under this proposal, and foreign terrorists can always use their passports to
The result of these restrictive driver's license provisions will be raised insurance rates, higher numbers of fatalities on America's roadways, and an increased black market for false and fraudulent documents. The Real ID actually undercuts the original purpose of traffic safety. It is better to have licensed, insured, and trained drivers on our roads.
By preventing immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses undermines national security by pushing people into the shadows and fueling the black market for fraudulent identification documents.
The Real ID provisions do nothing to combat the threat of terrorists or to deal with legitimate security concerns. They have taken away precious time that could have been used to address genuine pressing issues.
Hundreds of organizations across the political spectrum continue to oppose this legislation. A broad coalition of religious, immigrant, human rights, civil liberties and state groups have expressed their own strong opposition.
In these difficult times for our country, we know that the threat of terrorism has not ended, and we must do all we can to enact genuine measures to stop terrorists before they act, and to see that law enforcement officials have the full support they need. The provisions of the Real ID bill in the conference report today will not improve these efforts. They will not make us safer or prevent terrorism. They are an invitation to gross abuses, and a false solution to national and border security.
The Real ID bill with its controversial provisions should have been considered by the Senate through debate and discussion, not attached to a critical piece of legislation needed by our troops.
I urge the Senate to get serious about immigration reform that will make genuine improvements where they are needed, and not in the piecemeal fashion that is contained in this report.
This bill also provides nearly 12 million dollars to remedy a crisis in off-site judicial security for our federal judges. With this bill, we have taken a small, but necessary step toward increasing security for the distinguished men and women of our country who have been appointed to the courts. In the wake of the recent murders of the husband and mother of Federal Judge Joan Lefkow at her home in Chicago, and the courtroom killings in Atlanta, it is clear we must do more to enhance judicial security. This is a matter of the highest urgency.
The tragic deaths of Judge Lefkow's family demonstrate that judges may be safe inside the walls of our well-guarded courthouses, but they are vulnerable to disgruntled litigants in other places, even in their own homes. In fact, security in the homes of judges has long been a concern for the Judicial Conference, the principal decision-making group for the federal courts. Sadly, three judges had previously been killed at in their homes: Judge John Wood of Texas, in 1979; Judge Richard Daronco of New York, in 1988; and Judge Robert Vance, of Alabama, in 1989.
The vast majority of threats are received from people who are angry with the outcome of a case in court. In the ten years since
the first world trade center bombing, the federal judiciary has handled an increasing number of "high threat" matters.
Judge Lefkow was the victim of an act of domestic terrorism stemming from what should have been a routine civil matter. Matthew Hale, the leader of a White Supremacist group known as the World Church of the Creator, was convicted in April 2004 of soliciting an undercover FBI informant to murder Judge Lefkow in retaliation for her ruling against him in a trademark dispute. This example highlights the environment in which our federal judges toil everyday.
The Marshal Service, underfunded and understaffed as they are, struggles to keep up with security needs in this new high-risk age. But there is no reason why our judges continue to remain so vulnerable16 years after Judge Vance was killed in his home. We need to stand up for our independent judiciary. We can do so by providing it with enough funds to make their homes safe.
Mr. President, while this bill is imperfect, it has many important provisions that our soldiers cannot be denied and I urge my colleagues to support it.