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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, if I understood the majority leader's words, in a rather unusual departure from anything I have ever seen in the Senate, if he receives sufficient votes to proceed to the bill, he would take up certain amendments that are on his agenda, and then, in lameduck session, we might consider other amendments.

Coincidentally, the amendments the majority leader would agree to would be two of them that are totally unrelated to national defense. One is the DREAM Act and the other is secret holds, as I understand it. Then other amendments of importance, which are relevant, which those of us on this side of the aisle have, which are important, maybe we would take them up, under certain circumstances, in a lameduck session.

Mr. REID. May I respond to my friend.

Mr. McCAIN. Yes.

Mr. REID. I say to my friend from Arizona, I haven't decided for sure. We talked about some of the things I would do with our amendments. I have been very clear with every Republican Senator I have spoken to that, of course, the motion to strike, we would get to that as soon as we can. If Senators had other amendments related to the don't ask, don't tell provision, which has been somewhat controversial, and some people on the other side don't like that--if there are other amendments related to that, we would be happy to do that before we leave for the elections. Then we would have to see what else we can work out on this prior to going home for the elections. But recognize--and I think it is clear--that we are not going to be able to complete this bill before we go home.

Mr. McCAIN. So, again, I say to the majority leader, you are going to ask Members on this side to proceed to the bill without us knowing what amendments you are going to allow and those amendments that may be considered in a lameduck session. It is well known that the DREAM Act is also one of the amendments the Senator from Nevada, the majority leader, has said will be part of the prelameduck session, which happens to be preelection, which happens not to have a thing to do with our Nation's defense. Other amendments that may be directly related to national defense will not be allowed by the majority leader, which is his right, to fill up the tree, as he did last year after we spent a week on the hate crimes bill, which had nothing to do with our Nation's defense. I ask the majority leader to draw a conclusion or surmise that perhaps this has everything to do with elections and nothing to do with national defense.


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I will not take up the time of the majority leader--I have a statement I will present at this time--except to say again that this is a transparent attempt to win an election. That is what this is all about. Why would we want to put the DREAM Act first before the election? Why not after we come back? Why not take up the secret holds after we come back? And, of course, the don't ask, don't tell issue is one of significant importance to the American people.

Last year, after spending a week on hate crimes--which, again, had nothing to do with this Nation's defense--the majority leader, with the agreement of the committee chairman, filed cloture and cut off debate and discussion of amendments that many of us felt were important.

I have been around this body for a number of years. I have never seen such politicization of our Nation's security as we are seeing in this process we are following. This politicization that has taken place over the last 2 years is very unfortunate. For as long as I have been privileged to be a Member of this body, the Senate has done a good job of keeping the National Defense Authorization Act out of partisan political fights that have little or nothing to do with the U.S. military, the brave men and women serving in it, and our national defense programs more broadly. There has even been a healthy degree of bipartisan cooperation to prevent items that are unrelated to our national defense from crowding out time for debate and amendments germane to our national security priorities. Sure, we have had fights over this legislation in the past, and at times they have been pretty heated. But they were debates overwhelmingly focused on national defense. And whatever our differences we had through that process, we came together at the end of the day to keep this legislation focused on our national defense and all who ensure it.

What troubles me is how far off course we have gotten over the past 2 years. Under this majority leader and this chairman, we have witnessed the unfortunate and growing politicization of the National Defense Authorization Act. Time to offer and debate important defense-related amendments to this bill on the floor is being limited or cut off so that the majority leader can push through highly political legislation that has little or nothing to do with national defense--legislation that would never be referred to the Armed Services Committee if it were introduced independently.

The Hate Crimes Act would never have been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The DREAM Act would never have been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This is turning legislation related to our national defense and military preparedness into a vehicle to force a partisan agenda through the Senate, often on a party-line vote. And their desperation, because they see the November 2 elections coming up, is palpable. What is worse, the majority leader is pushing this controversial agenda under the cover of supporting our troops, knowing that the National Defense Authorization Act is a must-pass bill and whatever else is in it will inevitably become law as a result.

Last year it was legislation on hate crimes. I am not saying this is not an important issue or an issue that the Senate should not have taken up and debated in due time. But hate crimes legislation has nothing to do with our national defense. Of course, the majority and the committee chairman will always get creative on how to interpret ``national defense.'' But the plain fact is, if hate crimes legislation were introduced independently, it would be referred to the Judiciary Committee, not the Armed Services Committee. Yet the majority leader and the committee chairman put that legislation onto the Defense Authorization Act last year, promptly eliminating the ability to offer amendments. Then the Senate spent a week locked in debate over legislation that had nothing to do with national defense--precious time that should have been spent discussing legislation that actually pertained to our military priorities.

Things are only getting worse this year. We learned on Monday that before we go home for this election cycle, there will be no debate at all on the Defense authorization bill, except for what we are told--the majority leader just said he has not decided--but we are told there will be no debate at all on the Defense authorization bill except for three amendments handpicked by the majority leader for narrow political reasons 2 months before an election.

One of those amendments will be on banning the use of so-called secret holds. Another will be, we are told, on the DREAM Act which allows the children of immigrants who entered the country illegally to become U.S. citizens.

Again, I am not saying the Senate should not consider these pieces of legislation, but neither of them would be taken up independently in the Armed Services Committee because they have nothing to do with national defense. The majority leader has no business putting these two amendments on the National Defense Authorization Act--and certainly not two of only three amendments that will even get voted on--at a time when our military is engaged in two wars overseas and when numerous defense issues demand the Senate's time.

That leads us to an amendment to strike the provision in the bill that would repeal the don't ask, don't tell law as the only other issue the Senate will be able to debate and vote on. Unlike the other issues I have mentioned, a repeal of don't ask, don't tell, while controversial, is related to the National Defense Authorization Act. It is an issue that belongs in the Armed Services Committee. The problem is the truncated process and partisan manner in which the majority is forcing through a de facto repeal of a longstanding law that may have significant ramifications for our military force during a time of two wars, all to fulfill a campaign promise made by President Obama in 2008, barely 2 months before the election.

I want to make one thing very clear: I do not oppose or support the repeal of don't ask, don't tell at this time. I do oppose taking legislative action prior to the completion of a real and thorough review of the law. A complete survey to evaluate the impact of repeal on the men and women serving in our military should be concluded before moving forward. When the Senate does consider taking legislative action, that action should be based on the survey of our men and women in uniform, and their leaders.

Unfortunately and inexplicably, the majority is following an opposite approach. It is pushing for a vote on the don't ask, don't tell law before the Defense Department has concluded its survey of the opinions of our force on an important matter that will directly affect them and their families. The majority is doing this in complete disregard of the views of our men and women in uniform, as well as our four service chiefs--the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines--who are responsible for the battlefield effectiveness of their services. All four of the military leaders wrote letters encouraging Congress to wait until the completion of the survey of the force before taking any legislative action on don't ask, don't tell. Their opinions have been disregarded thus far, and it seems that the chairman and the majority leader do not care about their views either.

The majority will say this amendment does not actually repeal don't ask, don't tell; it merely authorizes its repeal pending a certification from the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that a repeal would not harm military effectiveness. Just those three officials--not the four service chiefs or Congress, for that matter. This is a legislative gimmick and a distinction without a difference.

In reality, the majority is sending a signal to our men and women in uniform that we will not wait to hear their views or give them any due consideration once the Pentagon survey is finished. Instead, the Senate will turn its responsibility to legislate on this important matter over to three officials who have already publicly stated their support for repealing don't ask, don't tell. It is a blatant message of disrespect to our men and women in uniform that Congress is unwilling to even wait to hear what the force has to say on this important matter before pushing ahead with a controversial political vote less than 2 months before an election.

That is why I am opposed to debating and amending the National Defense Authorization Act at this time. I feel very strongly that we should wait--actually wait--and not take any action on this controversial issue until we hear from our troops on what they think the impact of repeal would be. Then the Senate should take time to consider their views before deciding what we think is the best course of action. The only rationale for doing this now is a transparently partisan and political one.

After limited debate on only three amendments, two of which are not related to our national defense, the majority leader will then apparently push for a final vote on this legislation--or delay until the lameduck session--that also contains a controversial provision permitting abortions in military facilities, an irresponsible cut to the Iraqi security forces, and $2.8 billion in porkbarrel earmarks that the President did not request and the military says it does not need. There will be no chance to debate these or other defense-related issues.

The effect of all of this is that the majority leader is turning legislation on our national defense into a political football. Debate is limited and unrelated. Politically controversial amendments are crowding out our limited time to debate actual military and defense-related legislation. This is a corruption of the principles and procedures of the Senate if there ever was one, and it disrespects the longstanding traditions of the Senate. It is only making it more likely that the National Defense Authorization Act will one day go the way of so many other authorizations bills, which is to say nowhere.

This kind of transparent politicization of our national defense should anger every Member of this body--Democrats and Republicans. The men and women of our Armed Forces deserve better, and we should demand better.

I regret to see that the long-respected and revered Senate Armed Services Committee has evolved into a forum for a social agenda of the liberal left of the Senate. I will do everything in my power, if we regain the majority, to see that the Senate Armed Services Committee returns to the tradition of addressing only those issues that are totally related to the defense of this Nation.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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