By now, most of you know that the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, the Senate’s version of H.R. 757, passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday night. The House is expected to pass the Senate’s version this morning and send it to the President’s desk.
In an election year, when floor time is especially precious, it was remarkable and humbling that the Senate spent an entire day debating this bill. Senator after senator came to the floor to give supportive speeches. If you read only one of them, read the moving speech of Senator Diane Feinstein (D, CA) about human rights, but be warned — this is the stuff of nightmares, and not for children’s eyes.
The speeches should be available on video here within the next few days.
Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio interrupted their presidential campaigns to fly back to Washington and cast “yea” votes. Both senators have been solid supporters of the bill. Two years ago, Senator Rubio personally read every line of an earlier version. I hope I’m not giving away a trade secret here, but it’s pretty damn rare for representatives and senators to personally read lengthy, legalistic bills themselves; most delegate that to their staffers. Rubio did so with obvious care and understanding, leaving no doubt that he’s extremely bright. I saw his tracked changes and comment bubbles in the draft, and suspect that the mineral export ban the Senate added to section 104 was (at least in part) his idea. That provision could be quite powerful, akin to previous legislation that banned Iran’s oil sales.
Cruz’s staff was also strongly supportive of the effort following North Korea’s nuclear test, and (working through the snowstorm) made a careful effort to understand the impact of its secondary sanctions. In the interest of bipartisanship, the same can be said of Senator Ed Markey, a liberal Massachusetts Democrat, from whom I expect great things on the human rights issue this year. And every senator — even Senator Paul, who had me concerned to the point of apoplexy at one point — resisted the temptation to inject the bill with parliamentary malware or veto bait.
The Senate’s key leaders on foreign policy, including Senators Bob Corker (R, TN), Ben Cardin (D, MD), and Bob Menendez (D, NJ) all gave strong speeches. Standing watch over it all was up-and-coming freshman and Asia Subcommittee Chair Cory Gardner (R, CO), who led the Senate’s efforts to move the bill forward.
You can see the full list of the Senators who voted here, but it would be easier to give a list of those who didn’t vote — Dan Sullivan (R, AK); Dick Durbin (D, IL); Lindsay Graham (R, SC), who was campaigning for Jeb! in his home state, but who had co-sponsored an earlier version of the bill; and Bernie Sanders (I, VT), who stuck to the campaign trail, but did issue a statement supporting the legislation.
For which, Hillary pounced on him.
“It is unfortunate that yet again, Senator Sanders has shown a lack of interest in vital national security issues, failing to vote on sanctions against the country he said poses the greatest threat to the United States,” Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Ferguson said after Wednesday’s vote, according to news reports.
Sanders was quoted as saying that he had to be “necessarily absent,” but the increased sanctions were “absolutely essential” to ending North Korea’s nuclear program. [Yonhap]
Myself, I’m not a Bernie guy, because I like my regular supplies of meat and toilet paper, and 23 choices of deodorant obviously still aren’t enough for the people who sit next to me on the Metro. But … let’s just bear in mind that much of what this bill does is force the State Department to do things it could have done itself at any time over the last decade, but didn’t. That includes the period following North Korea’s second nuclear test, the sinking of the Cheonan, the shelling of Yeonpyong Island, the collapse of the Leap Day deal, a spate of assassination attempts against defectors and human rights activists in China and South Korea, and the disappearance of tens of thousands of political prisoners and their families at Camp 22 — all of which happened on Hillary Clinton’s watch as Secretary of State.
So there’s that.
The South Korean government, which has immense influence in Washington, and which my paranoid side had at times suspected of a certain ambivalence about the bill, ultimately welcomed its passage.
The bill was lauded by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thursday as demonstrating the “need for strong and comprehensive sanctions on North Korea.” [….]
The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Thursday lauded the resolution for “reflecting a bipartisan understanding and will on the need for strong and comprehensive sanctions on North Korea.” [Joongang Ilbo]
— Foreign Affairs Cmte (@HouseForeign) February 11, 2016
With Park Geun-hye’s decision to pull out of Kaesong, Seoul has broken decisively with the Sunshine Policy, its main cause for ambivalence. Now, South Korea’s influence machine turns its weight toward a more effective enforcement of sanctions against North Korea.