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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, for the benefit of my colleagues on this side, we will recognize in the proper order as we go from one side to the other: On my side Senator Inhofe would be recognized for 10 minutes, Senator Brown for 5 minutes, Senator Sessions for 5 minutes, Senator Chambliss for 5 minutes, and Senator LeMieux for 5 minutes. I believe that comes out to approximately 40 minutes.

Mr. President, I want to make it clear why I am opposed to moving to the National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal year 2011 at this time.

I am not opposed in principle to bringing up this Defense bill and debating it, amending it, and voting on it. I am not opposed to having a full and informed debate on whether to repeal the don't ask, don't tell law and then allowing the Senate to legislate.

What I am opposed to is bringing up the Defense bill now, before the Defense Department has concluded its survey of our men and women in uniform, which gives them a chance to tell us their views about don't ask, don't tell. Whether you agree or disagree with this policy, whether you want to keep it or repeal it, the Senate should not be forced to make this decision now, before we have heard from our troops. We have asked for their views, and we should wait to hear from them and then give their views the fullest consideration before taking any legislative action.

This isn't just my view. This is the view of all force service chiefs: GEN George Casey, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army; ADM Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations; GEN James Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps; GEN Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

Let me quote from my colleague, GEN George Casey. Remember, these are the service chiefs who are responsible for the training, equipment, morale, and well-being of the men and women in uniform who serve under them. What did General Casey say? He said this:

I remain convinced that it is critically important to get a better understanding of where our soldiers and families are on this issue, and what the impacts on readiness and unit cohesion might be, so that I can provide informed military advice to the President and the Congress. I also believe that repealing the law before the completion of the review will be seen by the men and women of the Army as a reversal of our commitment to hear their views before moving forward.

The survey is not complete and will not be complete for some time.

Admiral Gary Roughead said this:

We need this review to fully assess our force and carefully examine potential impacts of a change in the law. My concern is that legislative changes at this point, regardless of the precise language used, may cause confusion on the status of the law and the Fleet and disrupt the review process itself by leading Sailors to question whether their input matters.

GEN James Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, said:

I encourage the Congress to let the process the Secretary of Defense created to run its course. Collectively, we must make logical and pragmatic decisions about the long-term policies of our Armed Forces--which so effectively defend this great nation.

GEN Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, said:

I believe it is important, a matter of keeping faith with those currently serving in the Armed Forces, that the Secretary of Defense commissioned review be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law. Such action allows me to provide the best military advice to the President, and sends an important signal to our Airmen and their families that their opinion matters. To do otherwise, in my view, would be presumptive and would reflect an intent to act before all relevant factors are assessed, digested and understood.

It could not be more clear what our uniformed service chiefs are saying: Complete this review before repealing the law.

Then the question is: Why would the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the majority leader ignore the very explicit recommendation of the four service chiefs? One can only draw one conclusion: November 2 is a few days away. The President of the United States, we all know, made a commitment to the gay and lesbian community that he would have as one of his priorities repeal of the don't ask, don't tell policy. Looking at a bleak electoral situation, they are now going to jam this legislation through--or try to--in direct contravention to the views of our service chiefs.

I spend a great deal of time with the men and women in the military. It is my job. It is my job to do so, both the Guard and Reserve in Arizona and traveling around the world to visit our men and women in places such as Kandahar, Baghdad, and other places around the world. Every place I go, the men and women are saying: Look, let's assess the impact of the repeal of this law. I get that from the senior enlisted men whose responsibilities are great. Why are we now trying to jam this through without the survey being completed and without a proper assessment of its impact?

I urge Members not to vote in favor of bringing the bill to the floor at this time so the troops can be heard. Let us hear from the men and women who are serving in the military.

I remind my colleagues that last year, they brought up the hate crimes bill and then put amendments on the hate crimes bill so there were no other amendments allowed until the hate crimes issue was resolved. That is the concern of the Senator from Maine, that the majority leader and/or the chairman will fill up the tree--in other words, make it so other amendments are not allowed until this issue is disposed of and then, of course, other issues.

In light of all the challenges that the Defense authorization bill entails--training, equipment, pay, benefits, all of the aspects of Defense authorizations that are so vital--why would the majority leader and the chairman want to bring up don't ask, don't tell, then the DREAM Act, then secret holds, and then reserve the rest of the issues for after we come back after the election?

Again, one can only draw the conclusion that this is all about elections, not about the welfare and well-being and the morale and the battle effectiveness of the men and women who are laying it on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

The most fundamental thing we could do to honor the sacrifices of our troops is to take the time to listen respectfully and carefully to what they have to say about this major change before the Senate takes any legislative action.

If the Senate goes down this path, we would be ignoring the views of the troops and casting aside the professional military advice given by each of the four service chiefs, all four of whom oppose the Senate taking any action on don't ask, don't tell before we hear from the troops.

By the way, the way the legislation is framed, the service chiefs are not involved in the final decision; only the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense are. Why in the world before the certification is made would not the service chiefs be required to certify that as well?

This is not about filibustering. It is not about the reasons why we are not taking up this legislation or why I am opposing this legislation. It is all about the battle effectiveness, the morale of the men and women who are serving in the military today who have volunteered to put their lives on the line so the rest of us may live in a safe and secure environment. We owe them a right to have their voices heard before we act legislatively, motivated by the upcoming election.

Mr. President, I yield 10 minutes to the Senator from Oklahoma.

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Mr. McCAIN. Well, again, I would point out again that not only do the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and our service chiefs object to this truncated process, being left out of the final decisionmaking process, they do not have to sign on to any conclusions that are reached as a result of this ongoing survey. But there are others, such as the incoming Commandant of the Marine Corps, who says, my personal view, the current law and associated policy have supported the unique requirements of the Marine Corps. Thus, I do not recommend its repeal. My primary concern with proposed repeal is the potential disruption to cohesion that may be caused by significant change during a period of extended combat operations.

We are in two wars, and now we are pursuing the social agenda of the Democratic Party instead of taking the priority, as it is much called for; that is, the welfare, the morale, the battle effectiveness of the men and women in the U.S. Marine Corps.

So last year there was an amendment allowed, but procedurally, when we did the hate crimes bill, there were only amendments that were agreed to by the majority leader. That is what we fear will happen in this debate, and certainly the DREAM Act, which is also on the agenda for the elections is clearly not something that should be addressed by the Armed Services Committee. By all rights, it should be done by the Judiciary Committee.

I regretfully reach this stage. But I urge my colleagues to vote in opposition to the cloture vote.

I yield the remainder of my time.

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