June 18, 2015

Kaine: How Can We Vote on Vehicle Rust in Defense Bill, but not War on ISIL?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In remarks on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, called attention to the fact that while Congress is willing to vote on “all things great and small concerning our military” in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress is still unwilling to have a meaningful debate and vote on the war against ISIL and the need for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

“There are many important provisions in the NDAA that affect our national security and my Commonwealth of Virginia which is so deeply connected to the American military,” said Kaine. “In addition to grand items, the NDAA also examines in some excruciating detail some very, very fine points. … The NDAA includes provisions dealing with storage facilities that are needed to help us combat rust on military vehicles, the transmissions systems that are used in some Army land vehicles, the reflective markings in lights that are used on military airfields, one particular military barracks that has sewage, mold, hot water, and rodent problems. And even in the NDAA, we deal with some details of West Point's football program.”

“While Congress is very willing to debate and vote on all things great and small concerning our military, there is one thing that we don't want to debate or vote on, whether the United States should be at war; whether we should be at war with ISIL,” Kaine continued. “We'll vote on shipbuilding. We'll vote on military pensions. We'll vote on vehicle rust. And we'll vote on barracks mold. But we don't want to vote on whether or not the nation should be at war. Madam President, I proposed an amendment to the NDAA with Senators Flake and Manchin expressing the sense of the senate that we should have an authorization debate about whether we should be at war with ISIL, and the amendment that I proposed was ruled non-germane.”

Since June 2014, Kaine has been a leading voice urging the Obama administration to seek a specific authorization for U.S. military action against ISIL while pressing his congressional colleagues to debate and vote on the mission – one he believes goes well beyond the legal scope and intent of existing authorizations from 2001 and 2002. Last week, Kaine and Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced the first bipartisan AUMF and received a commitment from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker to hold a committee meeting dedicated to trying to find a path forward on an AUMF against ISIL. 

Full transcript of Kaine’s remarks is below:

I rise today to thank colleagues on both sides of the aisle for the debate and votes that we will be casting today on the National Defense Authorizing Act. We've come together in a bipartisan fashion, and we spent significant time in committee and now on the floor to deal with countless provisions – this act is nothing, if not detailed – countless provisions that are critical to the defense of the nation. We've got a long tradition of bipartisanship in this body on the NDAA. The Senate passes an NDAA in one form or another every year, and that can't be said about any other piece of legislation. And I want to congratulate the new chairman, Chairman McCain; the new Ranking Member, Chairman Reed. I want to congratulate my colleagues who serve together on the committee, Madam President, including you, and also all of our staffs, both our personal staffs and committee staff – I see some committee staff here – because this is a significant amount of work.

There are many important provisions in the NDAA that affect our national security and my Commonwealth of Virginia which is so deeply connected to the American military. In addition to grand items, the NDAA also examines in some excruciating detail some very, very fine points. Just to give you a couple of examples, the NDAA includes provisions dealing with storage facilities that are needed to help us combat rust on military vehicles, the transmissions systems that are used in some Army land vehicles, the reflective markings in lights that are used on military airfields, one particular military barracks that has sewage, mold, hot water, and rodent problems. And even in the NDAA, we deal with some details of West Point's football program, some of the athletic programs at West Point. But after all this minute analysis and debate and discussion over the past weeks, both in committee and on the floor, I do notice something a little bit strange.

While Congress is very willing to debate and vote on all things great and small concerning our military, there is one thing that we don't want to debate or vote on, whether the United States should be at war; whether we should be at war with ISIL. We'll vote on shipbuilding. We'll vote on military pensions. We'll vote on vehicle rust. And we'll vote on barracks mold. But we don't want to vote on whether or not the nation should be at war. Madam President, I proposed an amendment to the NDAA with Senators Flake and Manchin expressing the sense of the senate that we should have an authorization debate about whether we should be at war with ISIL, and the amendment that I proposed was ruled non-germane.

Barracks mold? Yes.

Vehicle rust? Yes.

The athletic programs at West Point? Yes.

Whether we should be at war? Non-germane to the Defense Authorizing Act.

Interestingly, we even took a vote on the floor of the Senate in the NDAA about whether or not we should arm the Kurds in a war that Congress has not authorized, that we could debate and vote, but whether we should be at war we have not debated and voted. So I went back, and I looked at Article 1 of the Constitution, and I found that there was no requirement that Congress vote on barracks mold, or rust prevention, or military airfield lighting. Now, certainly we can and should take up those matters, because each of those matters, even if they just affect one barracks or one airfield, are about matters of safety of our troops and military personnel. Of course we should take them up, but there's nothing in the constitution that requires that we take them up and debate and vote on them. But we are required to debate and vote to authorize war.

Article 1, Section 8, clearly declares that Congress shall have the power to declare war. Not the President. Congress. And yet on this item, on this large item, on this largest of items, we are unwilling to debate and vote. The war against ISIL is now in its 11th month. More than 3,500 U.S. airstrikes, than 3,000 U.S. forces now in Iraq, U.S. service members and American hostages have lost their lives in the battle against ISIL. The cost of the war to the American taxpayer now more than $2.5 billion -- that's an average cost of $9 million a day -- and the ISIL threat is spreading, the mission expanding in response to ISIL advances in the Anbar province, the administration recently announced that an additional 450 trainers would be deployed to train and support Iraqi security forces.

So my question, as a supporter, strong supporter, of the NDAA is a simple one: how much longer will we allow war to be waged without Congress even being willing to have a debate about the strategy and scope of the mission? How much longer will we keep asking service members to risk their lives without Congress doing the basic job of authorizing this war? U.S. airstrikes started on August 8, 313 days ago. Let me put this in an historic perspective. The one-year anniversary of this war is approaching quickly. Congressional inaction on it is already of historic proportions.

World War I, it took President Wilson 33 days to bring an authorization to Congress. Congress acted in four days.

World War II, it took President Roosevelt one day to bring a request to Congress. Congress acted on the same day.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, President Johnson brought a resolution to Congress in three days. Congress acted five days thereafter.

The invasion of Kuwait in Gulf War I, it took 160 days for the President to bring an authorization to Congress, but Congress acted within four days in approving an authorization.

The 9/11 attacks, President Bush came the same day to Congress. It took three days for Congress to act.

In this war against ISIL it took the President nearly six months to bring an authorization to Congress, and it is now more than four months since that happened. 313 days and Congress has said virtually nothing.

Now, I appreciate that Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Cardin have made recent commitments to discuss an ISIL authorization in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is the committee of jurisdiction – I understand that. Senator Flake and I have introduced a bipartisan proposal to show that there's bipartisan support for this mission and we've been pushing to have this matter heard. Yesterday in a debate on the House floor, the Chairman of the HASC Committee [House Armed Services Committee] stated plainly that it's time that we -- quote -- "ought to have a real AUMF debate." So I'm here to support the NDAA and the good work that the chair, the ranking member, and all of the members have done. But I'm here to point out that on day 313, if we are willing to deal with narrow, small issues, we should be finally willing to address the most important issue we have before us.

I challenge my colleagues to do this, and to bring the same amount of attention and bipartisanship to debating whether we should send American troops to war as we are willing to apply to barracks mold and vehicle rust.

And with that, Madam President, I yield the floor.

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