Sen. Ayotte Calls On Majority Leader To Bring Defense Bill To Senate Floor
Faults Top Senate Democrat, Administration For Stalling Legislation That Benefits Troops
WASHINGTON, DC - In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) called on the Senate Majority Leader to bring the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 to the floor for immediate consideration. Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed regret that the Senate's top Democrat is objecting to full Senate debate on the defense authorization bill, which includes terrorist detainee provisions opposed by the Majority Leader and the Obama Administration. During committee debate on the legislation in June, Senator Ayotte attempted to strengthen those provisions.
Ayotte noted the bill ensures that America's warfighters have the weapons they need to achieve their mission, along with quality housing, access to educational opportunities, and deployment and reintegration support.
"What is so disappointing is that the Majority Leader is willing to prevent passage of the Defense Authorization Bill, which addresses these essential needs for our warfighters, because the Obama Administration does not like the detainee provision of the bill, which passed overwhelmingly by Senators from both parties who serve on the Armed Services Committee," said Senator Ayotte. "It's so important that this bill be brought forward, that we have a debate over it, that we're allowed to amend it, that we pass it to make sure that our military men and women know that we're fully behind them."
Following is an unofficial transcript of Senator Ayotte's floor remarks:
Mr. President, I rise today to address the Majority Leader's refusal to bring the Defense Authorization Bill to the floor.
On Monday, Senator Reid came to the floor and acknowledged the importance of bringing the Defense Authorization Bill forward and he said quote, "it is vital that we get to this bill and pass it."
I couldn't agree more. That's why it's nothing short of outrageous that the Majority Leader is blocking this important bill from being debated and passed by the Senate based on misguided objections that the Administration has raised to a bipartisan provision in the defense authorization bill which addresses how we detain and treat terrorists who are captured under the law of war.
The American people and our military men and women deserve better.
The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act addresses many essential issues for our warfighters. Just to mention a few of the important measures that the Majority Leader is blocking from consideration by failing to bring this bill to the floor:
The bill ensures that our warfighters have the weapons they need to win the fight, ranging from small arms and ammunition to tactical vehicles to satellites. Just a few examples - advanced helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft and combat loss replacement.
The authorization ensures that our soldiers and their families have quality housing;
The authorization gives our Wounded Warriors better access to educational opportunities;
The bill enhances the deployment cycle support system and reintegration for our National Guard and Reserve given how much they have done in sacrificing for us with the multiple deployments that they've endured.
It strengthens oversight of our taxpayer dollars that are being used for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and it ensures that our money doesn't continue to be funneled to our enemies;
What is so disappointing is that the Majority Leader is willing to prevent passage of the Defense Authorization Bill, which addresses these essential needs for our warfighters, because the Obama Administration does not like the detainee provision of the bill, which was passed overwhelmingly by Senators from both parties who serve on the Armed Services Committee.
If the Majority Leader insists on preventing the defense authorization from coming to the floor, 2011 would be the first year since 1960 in which Congress has not passed a defense authorization bill.
Here's where we are: in the midst of two wars, with our brave sons and daughters, husbands and wives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan - and I'm the wife of a combat veteran who served in Iraq - with our country facing a very serious threat from radical Islamist terrorists, this would be the first time in a half century in which we have not passed a national defense authorization act.
Mr. President, to not bring forward the defense authorization bill and not to pass it after robust debate - in which Senators from both parties can amend it and we can let the American people know what's in it - would be shameful.
I met recently with the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. Sergeant Major Barrett shared with me the stories of several Marines who are serving our country. I can't discuss all of them, but I want to give you a few examples. One is Sergeant Ramirez, a Squad Leader assigned to 1st Battalion 5th Marines, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Sergeant Ramirez has a hook as a left hand. In February of 2006, Ramirez lost his hand when he was wounded in action while serving in Iraq with 3/5 Marines. Now he is leading patrols in Afghanistan. He wanted to go back and serve our country. Talk about bravery, talk about courage.
There's also Sergeant Gill at Quantico and Corporal Pacheco at Camp Pendleton, and thousands of other soldiers, sailors, and marines, who, after being injured on the battlefield, have gone back to serve their country. They're doing their jobs with skill and courage in the tenth year that our country is at war.
I just wish that we would show half, even a quarter, of the courage of our military men and women in taking up the important issues that need to be addressed to protect our country. And many of them are addressed in this Defense Authorization Act. And that's why I'm on the floor today, because I think it's so important that this bill be brought forward, that we have a debate over it, that we're allowed to amend it, that we pass it to make sure that our military men and women know that we're fully behind them.
Now, I know the Majority Leader has said that if we just drop the detainee provision, that he will bring forward the Defense Authorization bill to the floor.
But this is not how this body is designed to operate. If Senator Reid and the Administration don't like the detainee provision in the bill, Senator Reid should move to amend it or vote against the bill-rather than preventing the entire defense authorization from being considered. That's how the Senate is supposed to operate.
Of course the irony is that in a place where we rarely agree on anything, the detainee provision that the Administration is objecting to actually received overwhelming support in the Armed Services Committee. 25 out of 26 members of the Armed Services Committee voted for the detainee compromise. That rarely happens around here. I think it shows you that this was a thoughtful compromise and that members of both sides of the aisle worked hard to address this important issue.
This compromise was actually a compromise put together by Chairman Levin of the Committee, Ranking Member John McCain of the Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham, who has substantial experience in the Guard as a JAG attorney.
And the overall Defense Authorization passed out of the Armed Services Committee 26-0. How often does that happen around here? That every single member of the Armed Services Committee from both sides of the aisle -- Republicans and Democrats, and Senator Lieberman, an independent -- we all voted to pass this bill, and yet it's being held up right now from being considered and brought to the floor.
In this era of partisanship, the American people want us to work together. And that's what we did. And as a result, not a single member voted against the final bill.
And that's not to suggest every member of the Armed Services Committee got what they wanted with that compromise. I was someone who fought hard in the Committee for the compromise to be tougher on terrorists. But I respect that we came together as colleagues to come to this compromise and to move forward on the defense authorization so it could receive full consideration by every member of the Senate.
If the Majority Leader were to bring this compromise to the Senate according to normal and well-understood procedures, every member of the Senate, including the Majority Leader and myself, would have the opportunity to debate it, to amend it, and to vote on the Defense Authorization Bill-including the detainee compromise that I just referenced.
I may be new around here, but I must ask why isn't the Majority Leader bringing it forward? I know he's clearly doing the Administration's bidding on these detainee issues, but why would you prevent the American people from hearing this important debate?
Why would giving terrorists greater rights to our civilian detention and court systems (which seems to be the Administration's position) be more important than taking up issues like ensuring that our warfighters have the right weapons and equipment or ensuring that our wounded warriors get better access to educational opportunities, and all of the other important issues that are addressed in the defense authorization to both our national security and to our warfighters.
I believe that those issues deserve to be addressed by debating and passing this bill, and I also believe that the American people deserve to know all of the facts about where we are with respect to our detention policy with terrorists. Because I have to tell you, as a new member of the Armed Services Committee during the past eight months, having our military leaders come before that committee, when I've asked them about our detention policy and how we are treating terrorists that we have captured, how we're gathering intelligence from them, what we're doing to protect the American people - I have been shocked to learn that 27% of the terrorists we have released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have actually returned to the battle to harm us and our allies.
Too many former Guantanamo detainees are now actively engaged in terrorist activities and are trying to kill Americans.
Former Guantanamo detainees are conducting suicide bombings, recruiting radicals, and training them to kill Americans and our allies. Said al Shihri and Abdul Zakir represent two examples of former Guantanamo detainees who have returned to the fight and have assumed leadership positions in terrorist organizations that are dedicated to killing Americans and our allies. Said al Shihri has worked as the No. 2 in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Abdul Zakir now serves as the top Taliban military commander and senior leader in the Taliban Quetta Shura.
Can you imagine having to tell a mom or a dad that their son or daughter was killed in Afghanistan by a terrorist that we released from Guantanamo Bay?
Given the facts, I understand why Senator Reid and the Obama Adminstration don't want to talk about our detention policy-but as the famous saying goes, facts are stubborn things.
The American people deserve to hear this debate and to have us address this issue through the Defense Authorization Act.
Under our constitution, we have a fundamental duty to protect the American people and to provide for our warfighters.
We owe it to our military men and women to take up the Defense Authorization Act right now. Majority Leader Reid, as the leader of this esteemed body, should allow that to happen so we can fulfill our responsibility to the American people. Let me conclude by urging the Majority Leader to bring the defense authorization bill forward for debate, for amendment, and for passage. In the midst of two wars, it is time that Congress does its job and provides for our warfighters and their needs. Sergeant Ramirez, Sergeant Gill, Corporal Pacheco and the thousands of soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen and all of our volunteer force deserve no less.