Transcript: Press briefing remarks by Sen. Carl Levin on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 – Dec. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of press briefing remarks by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on the status of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. The press conference was held on Dec. 9, 2013:

Thank you so much, Chairman McKeon. Thanks to Adam Smith, the Ranking Member in the House, Senator Inhofe, the Ranking Member of course in the Senate Armed Services Committee, for the work that they’ve done to bring us to this point.

Chairman McKeon has described the point that we’re at and the hope is the bill will be a new bill, which will incorporate this agreement, will get to the House floor this week before they leave so that it can then come to the Senate. That’s the first important step.

Of course, after they get to the Rules Committee, then if that succeeds and it comes to the Senate, we will be in next week and we will have a chance to take up a bill.

Now, this is the only way we can pass a bill this year. It’s not the first time something like this has happened. Twice in the last five years, we’ve been in the position where we had to pass a bill that had not been fully amended or completed on the Senate floor. We added huge numbers of amendments in committee.

There were a number of amendments that were debated on the Senate floor. There were a number of amendments that were offered to be cleared on the Senate floor that could not be cleared.

There were two amendments in particular in the area of sexual assault – Sen. [Kirsten] Gillibrand and Sen. [Claire] McCaskill’s amendments which we wanted to debate and get voted on. There was objection to it. We could not get those debated.

However, as Chairman McKeon has mentioned, the bill that we will be offering has the combination of the Senate provisions on sexual assault as well as the House provisions on sexual assault. And these are extremely important provisions. They include – rather than me going through them I think you all have a list of the provisions. I’d be happy to answer your questions that are in this bill on sexual assault – to try to end the excessive numbers of sexual misconduct that still occurs.

Here’s what this bill does and this is why it’s so critically important that we pass this bill.

It extends the Department’s authority to pay combat pay and hardship duty pay for our troops in combat.

Relative to Guantanamo, the bill basically takes half of what we did in the Senate and passes it and that is to give flexibility to the President to transfer detainees from Guantanamo to third countries. It maintains the prohibition on transferring detainees here for trial and detention. So we kind of compromised in that way. And there’s about half of the detainees would be – detainees that could be transferred to their third world countries from which they come. About half the detainees would remain in Guantanamo because of the prohibition on transferring them to the United States for detention and for trial.

We also, by the way, made a major change in the area of the UCMJ – the so-called Article 32 process. We make it more like a grand jury process, which has the purpose of determining whether there’s probable cause rather than a discovery proceeding in which, for instance, in sexual assault cases the victim has to appear and be subjected to cross examination. Now, the change we make in Article 32 is not limited to sexual assault cases. It is a change in general in that preliminary procedure that now takes place in the military.

There are critical land withdrawal provisions. Three of them had to be extended or else the land withdrawals would have ended, would have terminated and that would have left our military without proper training facilities. There’s a new land withdrawal, which would enable the Marine Corps expand its training area at Twenty-nine Palms.

We also provide funding authority for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons stockpile and for the efforts of the Jordanian armed forces to secure that country’s border.

Now, as many of you know, this bill is on the Senate floor for about a week. Sen. Inhofe and I tried before recess during that week to bring amendments up to have them debated and voted on. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great deal of success in that regard.

We tried to get consent to limit consideration to defense-related amendments; we were unable to do so.

We tried to get consent to vote on the two sexual assault amendments that I mentioned – the Gillibrand amendment and the McCaskill amendment – that have been fully debated, by the way, during that week; we couldn’t get consent to go to a vote.

We offered to adopt – we sought clearance to adopt 40 cleared amendments as part of a manager’s package; we could not get consent.

We also tried to address an additional 26 amendments to have them debated – 13 on each side, and we were unable to do that.

Now, the reality is the House of Representatives is going to adjourn on Friday. There is no way to get a defense bill passed this year except the way we are proposing. There’s no way we can bring up or bring back the bill that was on the Senate floor, consider amendments, pass a bill, go to conference with the House, get a conference report written, and have a conference report adopted by the House of Representatives before Friday.

Now, under these circumstances, the only way we’re going to be able to pass the defense bill is by reaching agreements, which we have, with our House counterparts on a bill that at least has a chance of getting passed without amendment in both Houses. That is the best hope that we have.

And again, it’s happened a couple of times before. It’s not the way we’d obviously desire to legislate. We would have much more than a week to offer amendments if we could. But that’s not the world we now live in. The world we now live in has our troops in harm’s way, has their families that need our support, has all the other provisions that are in this bill that are so critical to our security, has a number of authorities that will expire.

And there’s a letter we’re handing out from Gen. [Martin] Dempsey, by the way, which went to our leaders today…which lists all of the expiring authorities – combat pay, for instance, is just one of those authorities – there’s about 30 of them on this list – if we don’t pass a bill this year…


Learn More: