Senator Lankford Discusses National Defense Bill and Iran on Senate Floor
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today took to the Senate floor to discuss that Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and praise the bipartisan work of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI).
This week, the Senate continued consideration of this complex annual legislation to fund our nation’s military and to ensure national security for the US. Lankford specifically addressed that the bill seeks to address military housing concerns as well as the bill’s support for advancing the KC-46A Pegasus tanker training program. The first tanker was delivered to Altus Air Force Base on February 9, 2019, in an official celebration Lankford attended. Additionally, Lankford discussed the bill’s inclusion of the Paladin Integrated Management system upgrade, which is assembled in Elgin, OK, and applied at Lawton’s Fort Sill.
Lankford also discussed the threat from Iran and its significance in our Middle East military operations.
Mr. President, I want to rise today to speak to the Senate and to compliment two of my colleagues, Senator Jim Inhofe from my state of Oklahoma, my senior senator, and Senator Jack Reed for their leadership and their bipartisan work on this year's National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. This is a complicated bill. It's had hundreds of amendments both in committee and in the initial manager's package that came out of committee that's already been debated, and there are a lot more amendments that are still being debated and processed. It's an incredibly complicated issue to be able to bring the authorization and information for all military for the next year.
But it's something this Congress has done for a long time, but Jim Inhofe—this is his first year to chair this committee and to actually be the driver for this, and I think he's done an exceptional job of walking through this piece of legislation. It is a $750 billion authorization. Now, there will be additional appropriations that have to be done to be able to designate that. But that is exactly what President Trump had asked for and said ‘this is what's needed and what the Department of Defense has said that they would need to be able to keep our nation safe and be able to prep for the future.’ There are a lot of elements in the bill that I want to just be able to identify them. Beginning with the 3.1 percent pay increase for our troops. That is something that's much-needed. Our pay to our troops has been very, very behind for a long time, and this starts an initial process of getting them a little bit above inflation to start trying to catch up.
It also deals with an issue very important to our military families and that is their housing. There are many areas and many bases and posts around—and posts around the country and world where the housing has fallen behind. Mold, issues of plumbing, electrical issues, roofing issues, flooring issues. It's important for members of our military to have a safe place that they come home to that really feels like home. They're traveling around the world. They're in difficult places, and as much as their family can be kept safe and have a place that they can make home as a family, that's exceptionally important…So this deals with additional funding to be able to deal with housing, which is much needed. This bill also deals with spouses and their transition from facility to facility being able to pick up an additional job.
Many of the spouses that are traveling with our women and men in the military, when they move to a new base or post, they want to also pick up a new job in that place. It takes months to be able to do that transition now. There's also an issue with licensing that if they have professional skill in one state when they move to another state, there are some additional hurdles for them to move to that next state. This bill helps again those families know that when they move, as we ask them to be able to move to different locations, it's a little bit easier on their family to also pick up a second job if they choose to be able to do that. Oklahoma is home to several bases and posts: Altus Air Force Base, Tinker Air Force Base, Vance Air Force Base, Fort Sill Army Post, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, and of course the amazing facilities for our Army and Air National Guard. We have a lot of folks in Oklahoma that are veterans that come back to Oklahoma to retire and a lot of folks that are actively serving there. This bill deals with every one of those facilities in some way. Let me just give you a couple of examples of that.
The KC-46 tanker, that’s the brand-new tanker that will be the refueler for the next generation, has already begun its delivery. It is coming to Altus, and it is already there at Altus Air Force Base. In fact, I had the privilege along with Senator Inhofe to be able to ride in from Seattle on the very first KC-46 tanker coming to Altus Air Force Base in the 97th Air Mobility Wing. That wing does all the training for every pilot that will fly the KC-46 for the decades ahead, whether in the Reserve or Guard or active duty. They are going to be connected to Altus Air Force Base and that KC-46. It has been long-awaited, but it’s finally arriving. This bill does the authorization for an additional 15 tankers, as we're modernizing that force, and we'll do a few every single year for quite a while.
The bill procures funding for the procurement of critical Army weapons and combat vehicles including the Paladin Integrated Management system upgrade, which is assembled in Elgin, Oklahoma, right next to Fort Sill. The Fire Center of Excellence at Fort Sill organizes, trains, equips all of the Paladin units in the Army Paladin Integrated Management. In fact, the skills that are coming out of the Fort Sill Fire Center of Excellence is asked for all over the world. Almost every one of our allies in every single foreign base is asking for the good folks from Fort Sill and what they are trained to be able to do to help protect our men and women around the world.
Additionally, Senator Inhofe and Senator Reed and all of their staff have worked to get in some of the amendments that I brought in on the base text. Those amendments they heard it out, we had a chance to be able to have dialogue, and have now been included long term.
One of those I worked with my colleague, Senator Shaheen, on, we worked on a Sense of the Senate on dealing with Turkey. Turkey is a NATO ally. We're very—they worked very closely with us in the development of the F-35, but we have a problem. The leadership in Turkey is now reaching out to Russia to buy the S-400 air defense system. The F-35 is incompatible with the S-400 Russian system sitting right next to it. We will never, ever allow the F-35 to sit next to the Russian S-400 system. We have tried to make that clear in multiple conversations with Turkey and Turkish leaders. We have tried to bring this up over and over again. I have worked with my colleagues to be able to make it clear that we will not allow the F-35 to be sold to Turkey if they are also going to purchase the S-400 from Russia. I maintain my strong support of the F-35 program and applaud its advanced capability. The military actually will be shaped around the F-35 in the days ahead based on its capabilities, but we cannot allow Turkey to be able to have that F-35 and also buy a Russian system at the same time.
One of my other amendments I dealt with, not just dealing with Turkey and the F-35 and the security of that advanced weapons system was also dealing with something that some folks may not notice but I do and other folks have as well, and that's the retirement of chaplains. We lose track at times that when people enter into the military, this mandatory retirement age will sneak up on folks. Well, it's especially so for chaplains because many chaplains actually enter into their service in the military after as a second career. Many folks in the military and other parts of the military, that's their first career, and then they have a second one. But not so for chaplains. Many of them were pastors or missionaries or counselors in hospitals or other locations. They get into their service and then time out. Chaplains need a little bit of extra time to be able to serve so they can serve a full term with the United States military. One of our amendments in this bill allows those chaplains to be able to complete service and to be a part of that.
There are many other aspects of this bill that has literally hundreds of pages long that deal with military service, but I want to bring up one additional element. It's an element that has been in great debate in conversation here in Congress, and it deals with the country of Iran.
This bill deals with not the military policy specifically with Iran but deals with our defense and our preparation for any enemy, including Iran. But there is an amendment coming up for debate in conversation that changes the rules of engagement with Iran, that literally says to this Administration: they cannot engage in any hostilities with Iran. They can only defend themselves if attacked but cannot respond until they get a vote from Congress. I cannot imagine a worse set of rules of engagement for anyone in the United States military who is forward deployed, facing risk from Iran than to say you can respond when Congress votes for it. I will certainly vote against that amendment as it comes up as one of the final amendments to be able to say to our military leadership I will not handcuff you in the face of a threat that is Iran.
Now, I have heard folks on this floor... want to lay the issues that we have with Iran on president trump. May I remind this body we had 444 hostages taken in Iran in 1979. Iran was the mover that bombed Beirut and our embassy there in the 1980s. Iran is the one that attacked the Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia and killed many of our folks in the 1990s. The reason Bashar Asssad is still in power in Syria right now is because Iran and their forces have propped them up. The reason there is a civil war in Yemen right now is because Iran is providing the weapons there and the insight to be able to instigate that civil war that's happening in Yemen right now. The reason there is constant peril on Israel's borders all the way around is because Iran is funding Hezbollah, Iran is funding Hamas.
Iran is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and the instability in the region is not something new, it is not President Trump's fault. It has been a long-term issue with not only the United States but all of the west and all of the region. Our issue is not with the Iranian people. They are smart, they are entrepreneurs, they are well educated. But they also live underneath the thumb of a ruthless regime led by the ayatollahs. That regime squashed the Green Revolution several years ago in Iran, the people just wanting more freedom. The issues that we're facing with Iran right now are not President Trump's fault, are not because he's being mean any more than the Khobar towers and the attack that Iran did on the Khobar towers and murdered many of our people was because President Clinton had put sanctions on Iran the year before. It wasn't President Clinton's fault that the Khobar towers were attacked. It is not president trump's fault in this case.
He has pushed back on a terrorist regime and has demanded that they change their ways, not only in the nuclear setting, but also in conventional terrorism around the region and quite frankly around the world. We cannot allow them to continue to terrorize their neighbors. Now, no one wants a war with Iran. That's why we have used sanctions and diplomatic means to be able to address this. All these accusations that the president is secretly going to try to take us to war with Iran I find absurd, especially for the man who is trying to get us out of the war in Afghanistan, out of a war in Syria, out of a war in Iraq, that suddenly secretly he wants to get into a war with Iran? That's absurd. But all of the region is looking to us to be able to help push back on the biggest bully in the region for decades. And every president since Jimmy Carter has tried to isolate and push back on Iran, and I do not want to suddenly limit President Trump from trying to isolate and push back on Iran suddenly because some folks don't trust him.
In the days ahead, we as a nation will cautiously, diplomatically, economically isolate Iran to try to bring them into cooperation with the rest of the world, but in the meantime, let's not handcuff our folks that are in harm's way in that region and tell them ‘if you want to respond, come and get a vote from us first.’
In closing, I want to thank again Senator Inhofe, who has done tireless work on this NDAA, and Senator Jack Reed for their great bipartisan leadership in this. They have done yeoman’s work on this, and I hope that this bill will not only pass the Senate but will be put on the President's desk in the days ahead and give some stability to our military forces around the world and that they will know that we understand seven days a week, 24 hours a day, in every time zone in the world they're standing watch for peace and freedom. They're not a threatening presence. They're a peaceful presence. And their strength has brought exceptional peace to the world, and I'm grateful for them and for their families and for the amazing sacrifice that they give every day. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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