Cole: "This is a very sad occasion"
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04), during consideration of the rule for H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization (NDAA) Act for Fiscal Year 2020, expressed his opposition.
Cole’s remarks as delivered on the House floor available below:
I rise, Mr. Speaker, to oppose the rule and the underlying legislation. And this is actually a very sad occasion, I think, for the House; it certainly is for me personally. I have never voted against a National Defense Authorization [Act] in my 17 years in Congress. As a matter of fact, most of our Members have never done that for the last 58 years, so it is pretty unusual for us to be here and we, personally, regret that a great deal.
My concerns with the substance of the bill are many, although there are, as my good friend from Massachusetts said, lots of good things in there, and there was lots of bipartisanship in writing it. But, the top line number is $15 billion less than the President requests and the Senate has already enacted in their NDAA bill. We think that hurts readiness.
We have concerns with the reversal of some decisions, both slowing down the modernization of our nuclear forces, and moving us away from low-yield nuclear weapons, which we think we need to counter Russia and its current aggressive posture.
We are disappointed the bill doesn’t include longstanding prohibition against transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States. Those provisions were put in by a Democratic Congress in 2010. We are sorry our friends seem to reverse a decision that they believed in a decade ago.
And it includes a lot of restrictive policies and prohibitions on securing the southern border, including prohibitions on funding a border wall, fence, physical barriers. I understand there are differences there, but I would hope we could give the executive flexibility in that area.
But, as concerned as I am about the substance of the bill, Mr. Speaker, I am very concerned about the process. I grant my friend’s point that a lot of amendments have been made in order. We could have made more. We actually offered an open rule last night that would have made everybody’s amendments in order. It wouldn’t have taken away any of the amendments my friends wanted to put out there, but it would have allowed everybody’s amendments to come to the floor for full and robust debate.
Now, the amendments that were made in order, 67 percent of them, are Democratic amendments, 14 percent are Republican. We don’t think that’s a fair, remotely fair ratio. And frankly, the en bloc arrangements in which we are going to bring many of these to the floor are even more imbalanced. Basically, 63 percent of those will be on Democratic initiatives, I think two are on Republican initiatives. So, we are very concerned about that.
And I think if we don’t stop this process, we are about to make the mistake that we made two weeks ago. Now, the Senate has given us, as it did two weeks ago, a different example. They’ve passed a National Defense Authorization by a vote of 86–8, so overwhelmingly bipartisan. The president has said he would sign their bill. The president sent us a message that the partisan bill that we are embarking on and about to pass he will not sign. So, we are headed for a confrontation again.
And it is a confrontation where we will produce a partisan bill that the president won’t sign. The Senate will produce a bipartisan bill that the president will sign, and I think we know how that story ends. So, we are dangerously close to repeating the mistake we made only two weeks ago, and I would hope that we stop. Because if we proceed down this path, we will find ourselves in precisely the same situation we found ourselves in with the border wall.
Now, I also want to take issue with my friend a little bit about the 9/11 issue and our friend Mr. Wilson’s bill and my good friend in the chair’s bill, as well. I just want to say, putting a bill - those things that are bipartisan - in a rule, it just literally means that our side is not going to vote for it. It would be the same if it were your side. You can say all you want. It was going to pass no matter what. So, we don’t think this was necessary.
So, it is with a great deal of sorrow— not sorrow that I oppose the rule, because I think the rule needs to be much more open, much more inclusive, but I hope that we can get back, Mr. Speaker—and by rejecting this rule and rejecting the underlying legislation, we can—to a bipartisan process where we produce a bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act. So, with that, Mr. Speaker, I urge rejection of the rule and rejection of the underlying legislation, and I yield back the balance of my time.