It was smiles before Bono testified before the Senate on Tuesday, even from the CODEPINK protesters he posed for photos with, but the tone quickly turned solemn as the pop singer addressed the role of foreign assistance in fighting violent extremism.
But first, there were cameras. “This is what it’s like to be chopped liver,” said Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., when the singer for the rock band U2 got seated at the hearing to a flurry of press.
“If there is one thing I’d like you to take away from this testimony, is that aid in 2016 is not charity, it is national security,” Bono said. The singer is the co-founder of the ONE campaign to fight poverty and RED, which fights AIDS.
Graham, who is pushing a new foreign aid plan for the Middle East as part of efforts to stop the spread of terrorism, said he was recently in Turkey and Egypt with Bono and other senators, including Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.
“Members of the subcommittee, let me soberly suggest to you that the integration of Europe — the very idea of European unity — is at risk here,” Bono said when asking for foreign aid funding.
He added: “Are we not your most important ally in your fight against extremism?”
He said it’s necessary for the Middle East and Africa to succeed in order for Europe to also succeed.
“To defeat bad ideas, you need better ideas. The good thing is, we have them,” he said.
The singer spoke of the importance of the first Marshall Plan — the U.S. foreign aid initiative to rebuild Europe following World War II –and said the Europe he grew up in and knew was born of that aid.
On his way to his chair to begin the hearing, Bono recognized three protesters from CODEPINK and stopped to speak with them.
“I think all countries should take in more refugees, I have my pink friends back here would back me up on that,” Bono said, which resulted in cheers from the three women. CODEPINK is a grassroots organization that works to end militarism and support peace — they’re also a common fixture at Senate hearings on this topic.
He urged Americans to think openly about accepting Syrian refugees to help with the influx of migrants in Europe.
“I was lucky to be friends with Steve Jobs, and there’s a Syrian,” he said later on the industrialist-mentality of the former Apple CEO whose father was a Syrian immigrant.
U2’s front man also took time to speak on what he found to be a bipartisan subcommittee hearing.
“I’m sort of having to pinch myself and go ‘Wow, people really get this thing’ and they’re talking about asking the American people to go forward.’ And, that hurts you politically, but isn’t that real political leadership, to do the right thing when it hurts you?”
In a lighter moment, during questioning from New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, Bono said, “I’m suggesting the Senate send in Amy Schumer, Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen” as a strategy to counter violent extremism.
Shaheen noted that was not the first time she has heard comedy proposed as a solution to such problems.