Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 – Dec. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of press briefing Q&A with Rep. Buck McKeon (R-California), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) on the status of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. The press conference was held on Dec. 9, 2013:

Question:
[Inaudible]…I’m wondering what are the problems that you see, who are the people you need to reach out to? Who are people who still need to be sold on this idea?

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma):
Well, I think they’re faced with something different now than they were before. Before, they were faced with “How are we going to pass this bill? Will I have an opportunity to bring up amendments?” Some amendments were not germane, as you know, didn’t relate at all to defense, and I think that these individuals are now looking at – it’s no longer a choice of “Do I get a process where my amendments are going to be considered? Or do I not?” It’s “Do I want a bill? Or do I not?” And I think they’re going to do the responsible thing and come to the conclusion that having a bill far outweighs, for all the reasons we’ve articulated, not having a bill. The choices are limited now. There’s only one.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan):
Let me just add this. There are many amendments that have been filed in the Senate – 30 of which have been cleared. Indeed, there was a second package of similar amount which was cleared as well. Where we reached agreement on the language in those amendments and provided that we can find something in either the Senate-passed bill in the committee or the House-passed bill to which those amendments that were cleared could relate, we could then and did wherever we possibly could add the substance of those amendments to this free-standing bill, which is going to be introduced.

So many of the people – this is done on a bipartisan basis – many of the Senators – Democrats and Republicans who have filed amendments – will find that we did a reasonably good job of addressing the issues that they wanted to address in those amendments in this free-standing bill. So it’s not as though none of the filed amendments weren’t addressed in this bill; many of them are addressed in this bill.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-California):
You know, it’s also a fact, I think, that there’s not a person in the House of Representatives or in the U.S. Senate that hasn’t at one time or another been upset at process. We’re past that at this point. The process – we still have disagreements over process but we now have a bill, and it’s do you want the bill or not? And I think when we consider our national events, when we consider our men and women in uniform, the overlying principle is get the bill passed.

Question:
Are you filing the bill today? And have you talked to Leader Cantor about taking up bill for a vote?…When are you filing the bill?

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-California):
The next couple of days, and I’ve talked to both Speaker [John] Boehner today and Leader [Eric] Cantor and explained to them exactly where we are. They were not – apparently, they didn’t know that we would have the bill finalized but we’re here to announce it today. We have the bill. We’re ready to move forward.

Question:
…As you’re trying to work out this defense bill over the next few days, simultaneously there are these Ryan-Murray budget talks going on…and about the defense sequester. Regardless of what’s going on in this bill, what are you hearing from them as they try to, you know, get some agreement here. I’m told just in the past hour there’s no agreement yet as it pertains to sequestration.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-California):
I think you know we’ve been fairly busy and we’re the armed services committee. They’re the budget committee. They’re doing their work as we’re doing ours. I hope we’re both successful this week.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma):
Keep in mind this is authorization not appropriation.

Question:
[Inaudible]

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-California):
Like I said, I hope they’re successful. I hope we’re successful.

Question:
Sen. Gillibrand was adamant that she at least get a vote to take sexual assault cases…out of the hands of the convening authority. Why did you decide against her and what’s your message to Sen. Gillibrand on this?

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan):
Well, you’ve got it exactly wrong. We did not decide against her. There was an effort made in the Senate to bring her bill and Sen. McCaskill’s bill – both amendments at that time – up for a vote. We tried it. There was objection to it. There was objection to us including either of those in this free-standing bill.

I think all of us wanted to have votes on both amendments, regardless of whether you support one or the other or both. But there was an objection. We tried it. It was debated for, I think, a day and a half in the Senate. So it’s in no one’s interest that this not be resolved.

They both have filed free-standing bills now, and they both have filed it in ways that either of those or both of those bills, hopefully, can be brought up for a vote as a free-standing bill if Sen. Reid, the Majority Leader, is able to find the time to do that. And I’ve talked to him about it because we all want votes on those two matters, not just Sen. Gillibrand but Sen. McCaskill’s as well.

Question:
On that issue, a lot of people are familiar with the long-running debate about military sexual assault and the effort that Sen. Gillibrand tried to undertake. Can you explain briefly what the agreement you do have in this bill what it does for soldiers who have these complaints or how it improves the current state of adjudicating alleged sexual assaults?

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan):
Well, I read many of the provisions. Were you here before?

Question:
Yes, I was. But –

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan):
Do you want me to repeat them?

Question:
No, I don’t want you to repeat them but can you mention how it works with Article 32…

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan):
Article 32 was a separate amendment. That was a Boxer amendment that nobody objected to. Unlike the Gillibrand and McCaskill amendments, no one objected to it, and as a matter of fact, we worked really hard to try to get that language adopted on Article 32 and there was no objection so we were able to incorporate that because we had a subject that was addressed in both bills in terms of sexual assault.

Even though the Article 32 language is not limited to sexual assault, it is limited to the use of that procedure for discovery now, which creates some unfair problems for people who are victims or the complainants.

So we were able to get agreement that we should address that. But we could not get agreement that we would address either the Gillibrand or the McCaskill amendments. However, there are free-standing bills.

I’ve talked to Sen. Reid and so has Sen. Gillibrand and Sen. McCaskill because all of us want votes on those matters even though in these bills there are some major improvements in the areas of sexual assault.

For instance – and I’ll give you some of them again – one of them is that retaliation is a crime. The threat of retaliation has been one of the reasons why victims do not report the assaults or the improper contacts or sexual behavior. So we make in this bill now that’s going to be introduced in the next couple of days in the House and then hopefully get to the Senate, retaliation is a crime under the UCMJ.

We also point the direction for commanders to be held accountable for the climate inside of the units in this bill.

We also say that the commander cannot reverse a finding of a court martial as we’ve seen. One of the problems which arose was when a commander reverse a finding of a court martial, and that created a real problem and we’ve addressed that by saying that that can no longer happen.

We also say that if a commander does not – excuse me, that if there’s a sexual assault complaint that is filed, that that complaint, if it does not lead to a court martial, must go to a higher level of official, including usually a general officer and indeed can go right up to the Secretary of the military that is involved – so it can go to the Secretary of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and so forth.

Those are just four of about 20 provisions that are in this bill on sexual assault…

Question:
[Inaudible]…Has the leadership in either parties signed off on this deal?…Are Senate Republicans okay with this deal?

Rep. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma):
Well, I can’t answer that question right now. I have talked to them. I’ve had two meetings before this and we have another one after this where we’re trying to get as many people here. Unfortunately, some aren’t even in town yet. I think you probably know Mitch McConnell is in an airport some place, unable to get out right now. I’ve talked to them by phone. I see a totally different change in attitude now that we’re at a point where our choices are so limited that it’s either we do it or we don’t do it. So I can’t tell you that we have a commitment on the Republican side for this. We have a lot more support than we would have had, more than we did have during the consideration of the bill.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan):
And on the Democratic side, I talked to Leader Reid. He’s hopeful that the House will be able to pass a bill this week so we could take it up next week. He agrees there’s no realistic way of passing a defense authorization bill this year without this procedure. And I emphasize that this is the same procedure that’s been used twice before in recent years in 2010 and in 2008, I believe.

Now, in terms of the Democratic caucus, we will present this to my colleagues. As a matter fact, we’ll be meeting with the full Armed Services Committee 15 minutes ago and meeting with the Democratic caucus tomorrow.

Question:
[Inaudible]…You talked to Cantor and Boehner…?

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-California):
They’re going to talk to each other. I talked to them individually. They couldn’t make a commitment ’til they have talked to each other, which hopefully they’ve done by now.

Question:
There’s been ample resistance from Republicans and journalists over Section 1021 of the NDAA, which is the right to indefinitely detain anyone including American citizens who have associations with terrorism. Was there any thought at all or discussion given to that provision?

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-California):
Let me go back over and tell you that what we have in the bill will be an improvement over what we’ve already passed in the House and in the Senate committee, and it was an overwhelming vote. So I think we’ll be okay. I think we’ve addressed people’s concerns.

Thank you very much. We need to go get the bill passed. Thank you.

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