This vote was on an amendment that would bar the U.S. government from providing food aid to North Korea unless the president certified that it was in the United States’ national interest.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that authorizes federal programs that assist farmers and low-income Americans. Sen. Kerry’s amendment would prohibit North Korea from receiving food assistance from the United States, but left open the possibility that the ban could be overridden if the White House decided it was in the nation’s best interest. Sen. Kerry’s amendment was intended to counter a competing amendment, offered by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), that sought to outlaw food aid for North Korea altogether.
Sen. Kerry argued that Congress should not tie the president’s hands when it comes to humanitarian aid.
“We all join in abhorring the conduct of the government of North Korea. Nobody contests that. The question here is whether we want to have a complete prohibition on any humanitarian assistance, without the possibility of a presidential waiver in the event that the president, as a matter of national policy, as a matter of our humanitarian policy, decides that something has changed in North Korea or there is behavior that has been altered by North Korea,” Sen. Kerry said. “Ronald Reagan said very clearly that ‘a hungry child knows no politics.’ I believe we ought to uphold that principle and have the presidential waiver in this particular case.”
Sen. Kyl said he wanted a complete ban on food aid to North Korea because he did not trust the judgment of President Obama. He said the Obama Administration had offered food aid to North Korea during negotiations even after assuring the Senate that food aid would be kept off the table.
“It is not just about abhorring North Korea's bad behavior but also the (Obama) Administration's bad behavior,” Sen. Kyl said. “A national security interest (waiver) that can simply be provided by the President based on his views does not solve the problem.”
The Senate approved Sen. Kerry’s amendment by a vote of 59-40. Voting “yea” were 52 Democrats and 7 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 39 Republicans and 1 Democrat. As a result, the Senate moved forward with legislation that would bar the U.S. government from providing food aid to North Korea unless the president certified that it was in the United States’ national interest.