WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism and a vocal critic of U.S. support for the military campaigns in Yemen, on Thursday delivered a speech on the U.S. Senate floor calling on his colleagues to take action and pressure the Saudi and Emirati governments to fulfill their promise to fund programs that provide food and medical assistance to the children in Yemen who are dying as a result of the Saudi-led war. Murphy warned that failure to act will exacerbate the crisis – shutting down food programs, hospitals and treatment centers – leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths.
“Why aren't we all pressing our friends, the Saudis … [and] the Emiratis to come up with this money? Because while we are all back enjoying our August recess, there are going to be millions of children in Yemen… who will either die or reach the brink of death. All because of a war that the United States has perpetuated. And funding commitments that can't keep all of these people alive, that can't save all of these children's lives but could save tens of thousands of lives if our friends, our allies would simply do the right thing,” Murphy said.
“I don't know what the Trump administration is getting for this bear hug that they have put around Saudi Arabia. After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, we transferred them more nuclear technology, we sold them more weapons and maybe the hope was that in exchange for that they would do something about the humanitarian nightmare, but they're making it worse. They're getting everything from us. And then they're not even feeding the people on the ground in Yemen, who are dying, as we speak,” Murphy added.
Murphy continued: “The president said at a 2015 campaign rally in Alabama, ‘I get along great with the Saudis. They buy apartments from me, they spend like $40 million, $50 million am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.’ A lobbying firm connected to the Saudi government paid $270,000 for the Trump International Hotel in DC, from ‘16 to 2017. In 2018, a five day visit from Saudi officials to the Trump International Hotel in New York City helped boost their hotels quarterly revenue by 13%. Boy, I hope that this isn't the reason why the administration isn't pressing the Saudis harder on coming up with their funding commitment.”
Murphy has been a vocal critic of the U.S. support for military campaigns in Yemen that have led to a devastating humanitarian crisis. In June after the administration announced their arms sale to Saudi Arabia, Murphy and U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a privileged resolution to begin the process of forcing a vote on arms sales and other security assistance to Saudi Arabia. Murphy and Young’s resolution draws upon Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act which allows Congress to vote to request information on a particular country’s human rights practices within 30 days. Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution offered by Murphy and U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would have removed U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis pursuant to the War Powers Act. This was the first time since the War Powers Act became law in 1973 that the U.S. Congress successfully passed a resolution pursuant to the law. President Trump vetoed the resolution.
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
“Thank you very much, Madam President.
“I'm on the floor today to talk about a crisis overseas.
“But before I do, I just wanted to take one moment, I know the Senator from Georgia talked about the increases in defense spending that we have done on a bipartisan basis and suggested that it was the prior administration that had gutted defense spending. That is just not true. And I think we should clear the record about that.
“In fact, in the first three years of the Obama administration, defense spending was on the rise. And it was the election of a Republican Congress that led to what we call sequestration, the downward descent of discretionary spending, both defense and non-defense dollars.
“And so, to the extent that my colleagues are worried about what happened to defense spending in the last 10 years, there's only one explanation for that, and that is the election Republicans to the House of Representatives in 2010. And their demand that in order to vote for an increase in the debt ceiling, discretionary spending had to be slashed. In the first several years of the Obama administration, defense spending was on the rise.
“Madam President, I'm here on the floor today to talk once again about a dire, dire humanitarian nightmare happening on the other side of the world in a country called Yemen. The United States complicity in that horror and the national security disaster that comes with staying involved in this war.
“I could have brought down a bunch of much more disturbing charts to the floor to talk about the world's worst humanitarian disaster, a country in and on the brink of famine, a cholera epidemic that the world has never ever seen before in recorded history. Instead, I chose to bring you a picture of a child with its back turned to you—to spare you the worst of this nightmare.
“But I'm here today before we break, to make an urgent plea to my colleagues. Because as bad as the situation is today, it is about to get much worse over the course of the summer and this fall. There are millions of Yemenis who are going to die—who are going to die—if we don't make some decisions and pressure our allies to make some decisions in the coming days. The reason for this is simple.
“At the beginning of this year, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are the primary military partners of the United States in the war in Yemen, made a pledge, a pledge they have made in the past, which is while they are dropping bombs and fighting battles on the ground in Yemen, that they would put up money to make sure that people got fed, that children got immunized. They made that pledge at the beginning of this year. And we are now halfway through the year, and the UAE and the Saudis have reneged on that pledge. Saudi Arabia pledged $750 million to the United Nations; they still owe today $630 million. The UAE pledged $750 million; today ,they still owe $500 million.
“Now, they've always been tough negotiators, difficult to get the money from, but this year is different. This year, six months in, the Saudis and the Emiratis are essentially saying we are not giving the UN their money.
“Now, if you meet with them, they will tell you that they are spending that money in other ways. That they are working with other partners inside Yemen to do the same kind of work. Don't let them pull that argument over on you. There is no one in Yemen that can do the nutrition work, the health care work, the anti-cholera work that the UN can and does. There are no other partners who have the capacity to keep people alive, like
“And if Saudi Arabia and the UAE weren't planning on giving the UN the money, then they shouldn't have promised it at the beginning of the year because the UN went out and built infrastructure. They hired partners based on those pledges. And so if the Emiratis and the Saudis weren't planning on giving the money, then they shouldn't have promised it at the beginning of this year.
“So let me just tell you what is happening right now inside Yemen. Work has been suspended on 30 new feeding centers in the most famine stricken parts of Yemen. Vaccinations have been suspended for 13 million people – increasing the risk of things like measles and malaria. New medical supply and equipment procurement suspended. UNICEF has stopped their clean water and sanitation services for 8.4 million people, including 3 million kids. That means more cholera and cholera is already on the rise. There are more cholera cases reported in the first half of this year than in all of 2018. Half a million new cases of cholera just in the first six months of this year. And the UN supported treatment plants that purifies water for agriculture has started to shut down as well, meaning an additional 4 million people could be eating vegetables that are irrigated with dirty water.
“The World Food Program won't be able to buy vouchers for 3 million people starting very soon. 60 more feeding centers will close in the coming weeks. The World Food Program has stopped providing nutrient bars to 2.6 million malnourished women and children, which will tip them now into the category of severely malnourished just like this child is. The UN is going to have to stop providing fuel for hospital generators. 35,000 cancer patients are going to stop receiving treatment, I could go on and on and on.
“But why are we standing here? Why aren't we all pressing our friends, the Saudis, our allies, the Emiratis to come up with this money? Because while we are all back enjoying our August recess, there are going to be millions of children in Yemen, who will look like this, who don't look like this today. There will be hundreds of thousands who will either die or reach the brink of death. All because of a war that the United States has perpetuated. And funding commitments that can't keep all of these people alive, that can't save all of these children's lives but could save tens of thousands of lives if our friends, our allies, would simply do the right thing.
“I'm furious about this Madam President, my colleagues: because I don't know what the Trump administration is getting for this bear hug that they have put around Saudi Arabia. After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, we transferred them more nuclear technology, we sold the more weapons and maybe the hope was that in exchange for that they would do something about the humanitarian nightmare, but they're making it worse. They're getting everything from us. And then they're not even feeding the people on the ground in Yemen who are dying as we speak.
“President said at a 2015 campaign rally in Alabama: ‘I get along great with the Saudis. They buy apartments from me, they spend like $40 million, $50 million am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.’
“A lobbying firm connected to the Saudi government paid $270,000 for the Trump International Hotel in DC, from ‘16 to 2017. In 2018, a five day visit from Saudi officials to the Trump International Hotel in New York City helped boost their hotels quarterly revenue by 13%.
“Boy, I hope that this isn't the reason why the administration isn't pressing the Saudis harder on coming up with their funding commitment. But the President has been pretty clear that the Saudis send him and his family a lot of money. He's been open about that. And I hope that's not the reason for why we aren't forcing our partners to step up. But this is life or death time right now.
“And if the administration's not going to do it, then we have to do it. Members of Congress have to do it. And so I hope before my colleagues go home, and enjoy some rest and relaxation over the month of August, that they get on the phone with their friends in the Saudi government, that they get on the phone with the Emirati government, they get on the phone with the Trump administration and tell them that it's time to pony up the money that they pledged.
“The United States is the number one donor. We could do more. But the Saudis and the Emiratis have come through on a quarter of the money that they have promised and the consequences of that continuing are absolutely nightmarish. So before we go home for our break, let's do something to make sure that a handful more of these kids are alive when we come back.