VIDEO: Senator Lankford Praises Passage of NDAA, Slams President Obama’s Veto Threat
Lankford: “I ask the Commander-in-Chief to stand with the troops and sign this”
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor applauding passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed by a vote of 70-27— a bipartisan, veto-proof majority in the Senate. The NDAA is an annual comprehensive bill to authorize the budget authority of the Department of Defense and some national security programs. Despite bipartisan support of the bill, the Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill several times.
Senator Lankford is the only Member of the Senate on both the Intelligence Committee and Homeland Security Committee.
Below is the transcript from the speech:
“Mr. President, it's not uncommon for me when I'm around Oklahoma, at home, that I’ll have a mom that will approach me at different town hall meetings or a store or restaurant. It's very interesting what she wants to talk to me about. Almost always the moms that approach me lately want to talk to me about national security. They want to talk to me about the fear that they have that the world is spinning out of control and they're very concerned about their kids and they're concerned about terrorism coming to the United States. There's a sense of a loss of trust that's happening with a lot of moms in Oklahoma that this is a safe world and a safe place. I can't tell you that that's isolated. As I've talked to other members of this body, seem to find the same theme coming up over and over again as they talk to people at home.
They want to know, is the American government doing its primary responsibility of maintaining security and protecting American citizens around the world. I would love to be able to tell her yes. Quite frankly, this has become a very, very chaotic world. And the challenges that we face need clear messaging about what we plan to do and then the actual intent to actually do that, to be able to follow up on those intentions. To have a plan for national policy for defense and then to do it. It seems straightforward and simple. Well, the national defense authorization is one of those areas where congress and the President have for decades agreed on a national policy for defense, have laid out that perspective and then it is the President's responsibility as commander in chief to be able to fulfill that. That is the primary responsibility of the United States government. Well, the challenge is, our world is in utter turmoil and it's not being fulfilled.
Passage today of the National Defense Authorization by 70-27, which is a rare vote in the senate to have that much bipartisan agreement on something, is a significant next step. It has passed the House already. It has now passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority and it is headed to the President's desk, where he has threatened a veto, of all things, for a national plan for defense. It is a statement and an emotion from Americans -- please, get a clear national policy. We feel like the world is on fire and somebody needs to provide a clear path. That's what this is. And I'm astounded by the conversation about a possible veto threat from the President of the United States, even when it passes the Senate by a veto-proof majority. Now, where are we and what's really going on right now? Let's just take a look at the world today and what's happening in real-time. The Middle East is absolutely rocked to its core with violence. And there's this perception that the United States is disconnected from it. I would tell you, that is untrue we're just not providing clarity in the plan.
And in a moment when we have men and women in harm's way across the entire Middle East, I am astounded the President's talking about a veto and to provide even more instability in that. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about when I talk about men and women in harm's way, because there are many Americans that don't hear about the ongoing battle that's happening right now in Iraq and Syria and how our sons and daughters are already very engaged in what's happening there. There is this belief, I believe, given by the President that we’re really not there, because we never talk about it. So let's talk about just yesterday. This is yesterday over in Iraq and Syria and what happened. Near Abu Kamal, three strikes from the Americans on two separate ISIL crude oil collection points. That was in Syria yesterday. In Iraq, one strike destroyed two ISIL rocket rails near Kirkuk. Two strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units, destroyed two ISIL heavy machine gun units and an ISIL fighting position. Three other strikes suppressed two ISIL rocket positions and an ISIL mortar position and an ISIL sniper position.
Near Muktamar, one strike suppressed and ISIL heavy machine gun position. Near Mosul, three strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroyed three ISIL heavy machine guns, three ISIL fighting positions, suppressed an ISIL rocket position and an ISIL mortar position. Near Ramadi, five strikes struck four separate ISIL tactical units, destroyed three ISIL fighting positions, three ISIL weapons caches, two ISIL buildings and an ISIL bunker and denied ISIL access to terrain they were pursuing. Near Sinjar, one strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL heavy machine gun. Near Sultan Abdallah, one strike suppressed an ISIL rocket position. Near Tel Afar, two strikes destroyed an ISIL strike position, an ISIL trench, an ISIL berm suppressed ISIL mortar position. Near Tikrit, one strike destroyed four ISIL obstacles. That's yesterday. Now Americans had this belief that we are disconnected.
We are a nation that is engaged, but the challenge is, there’s no clear plan. There’s no end game that’s being planned out. In a moment when we have this many strikes that are happening in Syria and Iraq, and I can go on and on about what’s happening with our Special Forces in Afghanistan and across the rest of the region, as I’ll describe in a moment, at this moment with this going on, the President is going to veto the National Defense Authorization with this kind of bipartisan support? When the whole nation is saying, give us a plan because we feel insecure. Currently, we’re trying and failing to train and equip moderate opposition forces against ISIL in Syria. Currently, we’re trying to give Kurds all the equipment they need to hold the line against ISIL. There are millions of displaced that are fleeing across Europe that are trying to find someplace of respite. In Yemen, we’re supporting the Saudi-led coalition as the Iranians are causing a coup to become a reality in Yemen by those Huti rebels.
In Libya, there is still an unbelievable vacuum that’s left by the incomplete campaign, which has resulted in ISIS get a foothold in Libya and bloody civil war—a very divided Libya. They have not been able to form a central government in several years now. Egypt is facing a real and growing terrorist threat in Sinai. There’s all kind of tit for tat violence that’s happening right now in Israel and the Palestinians and Israelis. In Africa, we are still hunting Joseph Cooney, a despicable mad man, but with no success. Africom also trying to assist forces that are kicking out Al Shabaab out of Somalia. Bloody sectarian and violence is breaking out the Central Africa Republic. South Sudan has an extremely fragile peace agreement. And Boko Haram continues to grow in west Africa, rapidly. In Mexico and other parts of Latin America, drug thugs are running ramped and pushing drugs into the United States in record amounts— destabilizing many of our cities.
In Afghanistan, a new offensive by the Taliban threatens to roll back the progress that we’ve made. DNI Clapper testified that the world is still facing an emerging and rapidly growing cyber threat. It is not just a cyber threat to the American government, it is every American citizen, as many American citizens have personally experienced in the recent days. So let's look to the future. And some of the plans that are ongoing. From Iran, we heard from secretary Kerry and is this Administration that a nuclear deal would lead to a more peaceful Middle East. Since the agreement was announced, we've seen Iran continue to arm the Huti rebels, continue to support Hezbollah and their expansion, continue to aggressively prop up the Syrian dictator, Bel Sahar al Assad. Some of us have stated quite blatantly our suspicion this deal will make the region less stable.
Indeed in just five years, Iran can begin importing large amounts of conventional weapons under this deal. So Iran that is already supporting large amounts of terrorism will only become better-equipped in the days to come. In China, they had a state visit here recently. Lots of broad promises about cooperation. Meanwhile, we know much of the cyber threat emanates from China. They are building islands in disputed waters, airfields capable of hosting military assets there. They are beginning to build a world-class Navy that could threaten our closest allies in the region. And China continues to be one of the world’s leaders in human rights violation.
In Russia, we've heard several of our top military commanders say there is a long list of threats, but the threats they are most concerned about is a growing Russia. Putin walked into Crimea and the world watched. He continues to threaten eastern Ukraine and the world watches. He's now expanding Russian adventures into the Middle East supporting the Iranian-backed-up Bashar al-Assad in Syria. He's attacking the moderate opposition forces attempting to defend their own families. This is not a new vanguard against terrorism. This is an expansion of the Russian bear. So what are we doing about it?
We are trying to actually put out a clear plan. Where are we going in national defense? What are we going to do to stop terrorism and the expansion of terrorists around the world? Instead of the White House cooperating with us, they're threatening to veto the NDAA. It is unbelievable to me. It is astounding to me that we're spending -- that the White House is spending more time trying to make a deal with Iran than they are actually trying to support our own military. What does this do? What does this agreement really accomplish? The National Defense Authorization, if people aren’t familiar with it, let me give you a few things that are in this National Defense Authorization that the President is now saying he's going to veto.
Here’s one. The personal carry of firearms so post commanders are empowered to permit a member of the armed forces to carry appropriate firearms on our posts or bases. After the attack that happened in Chattanooga, this is something the American people have called out for. It is included in this bill to allow it. Protections in cyber threats. Stronger cyber operations capabilities. Trying to safeguard our technological superiority. Intelligence equipping. Ensuring our military intelligence analysts remains a priority at the national level. The NDAA extends vital authorities for our forces in Afghanistan as we try to deal with what is happening on the ground there. It authorizes the Iran military power report for ten additional years, reflecting Congress' view that Iran's illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons capability and its military activities constitute a grave threat to regional stability and the U.S. National Security interests. NDAA reinforces the mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant--against ISIL.
Congress authorizes through this the European reassurance initiative to address Russia’s employment of conventional and unconventional warfare methods to counter US and western interests, whether that be in the Ukraine or across the area. Bicameral, bipartisan efforts to provide assistance and sustainment for the military forces in Ukraine. NDAA allocates $30 million for DoD unique capabilities addressing the threats of violence, instability, illicit trafficking of drugs, trans-national organized crime in Central America. Dealing with the Pacific region, this conference remains concerned about America's strategy in the Asian Pacific region. NDAA requires the President to make a clear strategy for this "Pivot to Asia." The Defense Department also has a greater emphasis under this agreement of the NDAA for security cooperation with all parts of the world, to make sure we have a consistent strategy.
And if you want to talk about just individual members of the military, this NDAA changes how retirement is done. Eighty-three percent of the individuals that serve in our military don't receive any kind of retirement at the end of it. This allows those 83% of the individuals to actually be able to participate in retirement benefits in their retirement from the military, even if they don't make it all the way to twenty years. This is a dramatic shift, not only in supporting the war fighter but in actually setting a strategy of where we need to go to provide some clarity to individuals at home and to our troops in the field.
Now, the President's statement that he's going to veto this have come under two areas. He's said he's going to veto this because the funding mechanism comes from the Overseas Contingency Operating Fund, which you’ll hear the acronym OCO. Because the funding’s coming from OCO, he is going to veto it. And the second thing he said, “I’m going to veto it because I don’t like what it says about Gitmo, about Guantanamo, and keeping those individuals that are terrorists that have attacked our nation at Guantanamo."
The ironic part is, when I started to pull this and to be able to look at the figures, let me give you the last several years. Just since 20--and let’s say from 13, the OCO funding was $89 billion. In 2013, the President signed that. In 2014, OCO funding, $81 billion. The president signed that. 2015, OCO funding $64 billion. The president signed that. This year the OCO funding is $89 billion. Right there in the same range as the previous four years. But this year he's saying, “No, I can't sign it, it has OCO funding." Can somebody tell me the difference on this? This is very similar to what’s been done the last four years. In this statement about Guantanamo Bay and preventing funding, moving the terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to the United States, which I can tell you in my state, people are adamantly opposed to moving the terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.
Going all the way back let’s say to 2011, that NDAA prevented moving prisoners from Guantanamo. 2012 prevented it. 2013 prevented it. 2014 prevented it. 2015 prevented it. All of those, the President signed. But for some strange reason, this year the President has said, “It has OCO funds,”--just like every other year in the past, and it deals with Guantanamo, just like every other year in the past.
This is a season when we need to bring clear voices and a clear mission, not politics. This is the primary mission that we have as a federal government. Take care of our national defense, provide a clear messaging. I am proud of this Senate for finishing the conference report on the NDAA and sending it to the President's desk. Now I would ask the Commander-in-Chief to stand with the troops, to sign this, and let's get on to providing some clarity in the days ahead. With that, Mr. President, I yield back.”
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