PRESS STAKEOUT WITH REPUBLICAN SENATORS FOLLOWING DEFEAT OF LEVIN-REED AMENDMENT
PARTICIPANTS: SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY); SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ); SENATOR TRENT LOTT (R-MS); SENATOR JON KYL (R-AZ); AND SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX)
THE OHIO CLOCK CORRIDOR, THE CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
11:59 A.M. EDT, WEDNESDAY, JULY 18, 2007
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SEN. MCCONNELL: Good morning, everyone. Let me remind you that Senate Republicans were perfectly prepared to have the vote on the Levin amendment at any point in the last couple of days. That could have been negotiated.
Point number two, the suggestion that it's somehow unusual in the Senate to have controversial matters decided by 60 votes is absurd on its face. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle were making those kinds of arguments in the previous Congress.
Nevertheless, this was a serious and important debate. Senate Republicans engaged in the debate all night long. I was pleased at the outcome. It's a clear indication that a proposal to try to micromanage the surge before it's hardly begun is not going to pass in the Senate.
I now want to turn to Senator McCain to give his observations about the majority leader's apparent decision to shelve this bill. There were a lot of other important things in the bill, which Senator McCain can relate to you, that are important to our military beside having endless Iraq amendment votes.
SEN. MCCAIN: This is or could be an historic moment because it could be for the first time in 45 years that the Congress of the United States, not just the Senate, but the Congress of the United States, has not passed a defense authorization bill and had that bill signed by the president of the United States.
We all know why. We all know why. Because they tried to load it up with their agenda on Iraq, knowing full well that in September General Petraeus is coming back and giving a report and we will have another debate and votes at that time.
Now, what have we done by not passing the defense authorization bill? We are not allowing a 3.5 percent pay raise to men and women in the military. We're not modernizing their equipment, including MRAP. We are not passing the wounded warriors legislation, which we all know is vitally needed to care for our wounded veterans. We have placed the care of our wounded veterans in a lower priority than a debate over Iraq, which we all know that debate is going to take place again in September.
This is a commentary on the lack of comity in the Senate. It's a commentary on where the priorities are of those who brought down this bill. It clearly cannot be the welfare and benefit and arming and training and equipment both of our active duty military, and the medical care for our veterans.
I am deeply disappointed. I am deeply disappointed. And I would hope that when the American people are aware that we are letting the men and women who are serving the military down by not passing an authorization bill, they will tell the majority and the other side to bring this bill back up.
I'd just finally say, I've worked with Carl Levin, with Senator Carl Levin for 20 years. He and I could get this bill done in the next couple of days easily, if it were not for the Iraq issue, as we have in many years in the past. This is tragic that we've allowed a debate over Iraq, which has been ongoing -- this is the eighth or ninth time we've taken it up on the floor of the Senate -- derail the much-needed training, equipping, benefits for the men and women who are serving in the military. We are abandoning the men and women in the military if we don't take this bill back up and pass it, conference with the House, and have it signed by the president of the United States, as we have for the past 45 years.
SEN. LOTT: This defense authorization bill is very important for our men and women in uniform and for our country. We should go forward with this bill. I have no doubt that the managers of this legislation and our leadership could design a way to get this bill done this week. There was no justification and no excuse for Senator Reid pulling down this bill now, unless the intent is to play games with it again -- I don't know when; maybe before the August district work period or maybe in September.
Meanwhile, there is a need for this legislation. First of all, before you can go to the appropriations process, you need authorization. I know that Senator McCain and Senator Levin were already working on amendments, and there are some important amendments to the underlying bill for how we deal with detainees, and the future of our missile defense program, as well as all the different programs -- ships, planes, vehicles, equipment, quality of life, pay raise. This is important legislation. No excuse for pulling this down.
Now, the Senate is spiraling into the ground to a degree that I have never seen before, and I've been here a long time. All modicum of courtesy is going out the window. There's been a tradition in the Senate that senators are allowed to respond when their state or their names are invoked, and we have debate on one side or the other. That is being stopped.
This is a tragedy for the American people. I believe they expect more of this institution than what they're seeing here today, and we should not be going to other issues that are not nearly as critical as the need to pass this defense authorization bill.
So you know, look, we've had the votes on Iraq. People have made their statements. You've had -- we've had plenty of good debate and some outstanding statements made. Whether you disagree with the points that were made or not, that's, you know, the eye of the beholder. And we had the votes. Now why don't we go forward and do this bill?
I hope that Senator Reid will go back in his office and think about this a minute and come back and work something out with the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. It can be done, it should be done, and I, frankly, am extremely disappointed in the way this matter's being handled.
SEN. KYL: Can I just mention one thing? I was just informed of a Zogby Poll that has come out with the number of Congress approval at 14 percent, the lowest, I think, since polling began, and what happened today on the floor of the Senate is a good illustration of why the public holds this democratically controlled Senate in such low esteem.
To hijack the defense authorization bill for the debate over Iraq and then, when that vote has occurred, to pull the bill so that the bill cannot be acted upon for the benefit of our veterans and our troops is a very irresponsible action on the part of the Democratic leadership. And I join my colleagues in expressing great disappointment, but hope that the American people speak out on this, the Democratic leadership will recognize that the first obligation is to our troops and that we've got to re-engage on the defense authorization bill, get it passed so that we can provide for their -- for what they need to carry out the missions that we've sent them to accomplish.
SEN. HUTCHISON: I just want to speak for a minute about the institution of the United States Senate. There are many issues that we can debate, and maybe a few people are looking, maybe Americans are looking, but this issue of how we deal with the war on terror is looked at by the entire world. Other governments are looking at the United States Senate. Other potential allies, other potential enemies are looking at what we're doing. For the United States Senate time and time and time again to try to micromanage a war with the clear message that all we want to do is get out is -- it's insupportable.
We are the strongest nation on earth. We are the strongest ally and the most formidable enemy. When we vote, even in a majority -- though we were able to stop it by having the 60-vote requirement -- even in the majority, that we would cut and run from a commitment, that we would walk away from a fight for freedom, that we would not be the responsible ally that people expect of the United States of America is a disappointment, to say the least.
So I do hope that all of us will think about this in the bigger picture and take a different term and stop the politics as usual on this issue where the world is watching.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Lindsey.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Who are the 14 percent, and what do they like?
The substance of the amendment -- I believe very passionately that if we had said in the Senate today that U.S. begins to withdraw forces in Iraq in 120 days, we will be out by May of 2008, that every newspaper in every language known to mankind would have had headlines throughout the world that says: America Begins to Withdraw from Iraq. And our enemy, al Qaeda, would have been -- had had access to those headlines, and they're being pounded and they're being pursued, and things are not going well for them, but they would be given hope. It would spread like wildfire through Iraq, to our enemy first: Hang in there. If we can make it to May, we're going to turn the corner.
To those who have broken with Iraq in the last several -- excuse me -- with al Qaeda in the last several months and aligned themselves with American coalition forces and are pursuing a moderate agenda and rejecting al Qaeda and Iran's influence, they would pick up the paper and said, "Oh my God, what's going to happen to me and my family?"
What we avoided today was a signal from the United States Senate that would have emboldened our enemy and broken the backs of everybody who's tried to reject that extremist agenda. In this regard it's been a good day.
For the troops in the field, the surge goes on. What I hate the most is that because of the next election, we can't set aside our differences and focus on what we have in common -- providing our troops with what they need.
I've only been in the Senate one term. America cannot survive this way as a great nation. We will not be able to do the hard things necessary for the next generation if we take every hard issue, whether it be the war, immigration, Social Security, and play these political games that result in stagnation.
SEN. MCCONNELL: Questions of any of us.
Q Senator, were you warned about the majority leader's plans? Do they really endanger kind of the defense authorization? And do you agree with Senator Lott that today marks an extraordinary departure from comity?
SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, it's certainly the lowest point I can recall in my 20-some-odd years here. And I think it is an illustration of why this new majority has sunk to a 14 percent approval rating in the polls.
I didn't learn that we were going to put the defense bill aside until a few moments ago. I agree with all the comments that have been made by my colleagues that the way you wrap these bills up is you wrap them up. I mean we spent two days on this one debate, an important debate certainly, but we could have voted a couple of days ago and been processing other amendments. As Senator McCain indicated, there are a whole lot of other extremely important things in this bill that need to be dealt with, and apparently we're just going to put it aside, I guess indefinitely, maybe forever -- I don't know.
Q Mr. Leader, does your side bear any responsibility for the outcome of this bill, pulling the bill for not being able to compromise with the Democrat leadership?
SEN. MCCONNELL: We bear no responsibility for this whatsoever. They insisted on having a two-day debate and an all-night theater when we could have voted on this amendment and other amendments. We could have processed a lot of amendments over the last couple of days. Senator McCain is very experienced at doing this sort of thing; Senator Levin is as well. This bill was sort of stopped so that we could have this show. You all were familiar with everybody who was in town last night; all the left-wing groups were here doing their thing. It was, I think, not even particularly good theater.
But as a practical matter, the underlying bill is extremely important to the country and we made no progress on it for two days.
Q Senator McCain, I'm wondering if -- I had a question about those other programs that are so important in the bill. Were you able to come to an agreement on a manager's package wrapping up those amendments?
SEN. MCCAIN: It would be a very short period of time. We had -- what usually happens -- and I'll try to make the answer very short as possible. What usually happens, you have a hundred-or-so amendments; you sit down, you work them out, and then you vote on five or six. I've been doing that for many, many years.
But what's -- I think I want to emphasize again here is that apparently we're not able to pass the wounded warriors legislation by itself, so we added it to the defense authorization bill. My friends, just a short time ago we were outraged at the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital and we vowed that we'd fix it, that we'd take care of these men and women who have been wounded. That's part of this bill. Now what happens? Now what happens?
Of course we would have worked out these amendments. Of course we would have got it done by the end of this week, as we have for the last 20 years that I've been a member of the Armed Services Committee.
SEN. MCCONNELL: We'll take one more, if there is one.
Q Senator, what was the sticking point on the package of amendments --
SEN. MCCAIN: What's that?
Q What was the sticking point on the package of amendments?
SEN. MCCAIN: There was one senator on our side who said that he wanted to be sure that his amendment would be up for a vote, and I was able to assure him of that. It was not a problem. We would have sifted through the 90 or a hundred or 200, or whatever it usually is, and then threaten to stay in late, and we get them all done. That's what we've done every year.
But there wasn't an issue like Iraq injected in years past, and that's what's thrown this whole thing into a ditch, and I regret it. And I can't tell you how much I regret it, and I am much more sad than I am angry.
Q Thank you.