McGovern: GOP Giving White House Blank Check for War is Shameful
America Has Been At War for 16 Years and Speaker Ryan Refuses to Allow Congressional Oversight and Debate on Updated War Authorization
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), a senior House Democrat, delivered a blistering rebuke of Speaker Ryan and House Republicans for their refusal to answer the bipartisan call to end the outdated war authorization used by Presidents Obama and Trump. Click here for video of today’s speech.
“We are 16 years into the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. The costs are already in the hundreds of billions of dollars. And the human costs to our troops, our veterans and their families have been enormous. Yet, Congress has not taken a single vote, has not taken a single stand, on this war for sixteen years. So, in the absence of debating an updated AUMF for Afghanistan, the very least we can do is debate whether we will, once again, escalate our military footprint in Afghanistan.
“Congress has to stop kicking the can down the road. It is unconscionable that the Republican leadership continues to prevent meaningful debate on these wars. Both Democrats and Republicans keep bringing these issues up because it’s our job. The American people sent us to Washington to debate the uncomfortable issues and to take the difficult votes.
“There are some in Congress who think it’s acceptable to give this Administration a blank check to continue these endless wars. Why anybody, no matter who’s president, but especially with this president, would feel comfortable giving the White House a blank check for war, is beyond my comprehension.
“We need to debate these wars. And if that’s a debate you’d rather not have – if that’s a vote that you would rather not take – then you should look for a new job. You should go into a different vocation.
“Protecting the lives and well-being of our uniformed men and women is one of the highest priorities of Congress. But they deserve more than a thank-you on Veterans Day.
“We do not respect their service and sacrifice and that of their families when we refuse to debate and take any responsibility for sending them year after year into war. They deserve a thoughtful, reasoned, and engaged debate. They deserve a debate. They deserve a little attention. Not excuses and not more reports. And not more ‘we’ll get to it in the future.’
“That is why, along with many of my Republican and Democrat colleagues, we will continue to demand that the Republican leadership of this House allow a debate and vote on the future of these wars.
“I have been raising this issue, not just when Republicans are president, but when Democrats have been president. I really believe that Congress has forfeited its Constitutional responsibilities. We have acquiesced, time and time again to Democratic and Republican administrations when it comes to war. We can’t allow that to happen. That’s not responsible governing. We have an obligation to make sure that whatever we’re doing with regard to our military, that it is the right thing to do.
“We should be ashamed of this process. There’s no justifying shutting out debate on war.”
Click here for video of today’s speech.
Full Text of Congressman McGovern’s Floor Remarks:
As Prepared for Delivery
“Last night, the majority on the House Rules Committee once again decided to exclude from debate 230 amendments to H.R. 2810, the National Defense Authorization Act. This means that half of the amendments submitted to Rules were rejected.
“I can never understand why these amendments are denied the chance to be debated by the full House.
“When I first came to Capitol Hill as an aide to our former friend and colleague, Congressman Joe Moakley, the defense authorization bill would often take up a week of debate.
“Even back then, it was one of the largest and most complex bills debated, and certainly one of the most important from a national security point of view.
“The NDAA rule was also structured back then, but more in terms of the amount of time permitted for debate. And many, many amendments received one hour, half an hour, 20 minutes, even 2 hours of debate. Why? Because they were about the important decisions and priorities facing our national defense policy at the time.
“But that’s not the case today. Amendments are lucky to get 10 minutes of debate, equally divided, if they are lucky enough to be debated at all. And the defense bill takes up a total of maybe two days’ worth of debate, if that.
“No wonder Members are frustrated by this process.
“This year, like every year for the past several years, important issues – especially on war and peace – were left on the chopping block by the Republicans.
“They decided the House should not debate two bipartisan amendments that would make sure that nothing in the NDAA could be construed as authorization to use force against the Governments of North Korea or Syria.
“The Republican majority decided it’s okay to debate a bigoted amendment that prohibits medical treatment for transgender service members who are in transition – but they will not let the House debate an amendment that just calls for a study – a STUDY, M. Speaker – on blood donations from gay men.
“Did you know there’s a provision in the NDAA that sets up an entire new military Service Branch – the Space Corps? The Pentagon doesn’t want it. The Air Force doesn’t want it. They say it’s premature. But an amendment by Mr. Turner to require the Pentagon to report on the need to establish a Space Corps is NOT included in this Rule. I guess the Republican leadership doesn’t want the House to have a say and debate such a major change.
“Mr. Amash led a bipartisan amendment to block the sale of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia. Last year, this amendment failed by just a handful of votes. I guess that’s why the Republicans on the Rules Committee aren’t about to let it come up for debate and a vote this year.
“And when it comes to sending our uniformed women and men into war, into danger, where their very lives are at risk, the Rules Committee decided that such amendments were not worth the House’s time to debate.
“Last night, Republicans on the Rules Committee denied the opportunity for debate on a bipartisan amendment offered by myself and Representatives Walter Jones, Barbara Lee, Thomas Massie, John Garamendi, Dan Kildee and Peter Welch.
“The amendment is very straightforward – if the President decides to increase the level of U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan in FY 2018, then he would report to Congress on the purpose and mission of those troops, how many were required and how long they would be there. And then Congress would vote to approve or disapprove that escalation.
“This would give the American people the voice they deserve when it comes tosending our men and women in uniform into battle.
“The President and General Mattis just decided to send an additional 4,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, on top of the 8,400 U.S. troops already there. That will bring the total number of American troops there to more than 12,000.
“If they should decide that they want even MORE troops in Afghanistan in FY 2018, Congress should know why and vote on it.
“We can’t keep giving the Administration a blank check, and allow America, once again, to go down the “slippery slope” of incremental escalation over the next year or two. Congress needs to step up to the plate and either approve or disapprove any renewed escalation in Afghanistan.
“Isn’t that amendment worth debating? Even if just for 10 minutes?
“We are in Year Sixteen of the war in Afghanistan.
“It is the longest war in American history.
“Let me repeat that, M. Speaker – Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history.
“The costs are already in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
“And the human costs to our troops, our veterans and their families have been enormous.
“And yet, Congress has not taken a single vote, has not taken a single stand, on this war for sixteen years.
“Most of the members of this House weren’t even here when that one and only vote was taken.
“So, in the absence of debating an updated AUMF for Afghanistan, the very least we can do is debate whether we will, once again, escalate our military footprint in Afghanistan.
“But the Republican leadership of this House doesn’t agree.
“Each year, the Republican leadership does everything it can to stop any debate on these wars. And this year, is no different. They’ll allow some amendments on reports and a sense of Congress here and there. But any amendment of substance, that requires Congress to act, is denied.
“M. Speaker, I have no problem with a report. But it won’t be the first time we’ve seen a report – whether on Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Syria. Even the underlying bill calls for a strategy report on Afghanistan and other conflicts.
“But Congress avoiding taking any responsibility for continuing to send our service men and women into harm’s way is absolutely shameful. It’s cowardice.
“Every day, military families say good-bye to their loved ones as they go into battle, placing themselves in harm’s way to keep our country safe.
“And Congress does nothing.
“All we do here is kick the can down the road, and call for another report – and then another report.
“We don’t even act when the President actually does send us an AUMF, the way President Obama did on Iraq and Syria and the war against ISIS. The Republican leadership complained that they didn’t like it. But they never even tried to act on it or write an AUMF of their own.
“They’d rather just stand on the sidelines, complain and criticize. But do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except stop any other Member from taking any action that might require the House to debate these wars.
“Shame on us all for allowing this to continue. Over and over and over again.
“I’m guessing that whenever the House takes up the defense appropriations bill, the Republican leaders will find a way to make sure that the bipartisan-supported provision in that bill to sunset the 2001 AUMF on Afghanistan and vote on a new one within 8 months will somehow disappear without a single Member of the House-at-large having the chance to vote on it.
“Maybe we’ll get another report.
“And so it goes, on and on.
“There is nearly $700 billion authorized in this bill for wars, for weapons systems, for military equipment and personnel – all because Congress refuses to make hard choices.
“We can never seem to find the money to take care of our own neighborhoods and schools.
“We can’t find the money to provide our citizens with better, more affordable health care, or make sure all of our families can put food on the table.
“We don’t invest nearly enough in our roads, bridges, railways and transit systems.
“There’s never enough money to invest in a 21st Century manufacturing base, provide training to support the jobs of the future, or raise the federal minimum wage to a livable wage.
“We’re told that we don’t have the money to take care of our parks, or make sure our air and water are drinkable and breathable.
“We can’t even seem to find the money to take care of our seniors or our children.
“But when it comes to spending for war or building more nuclear weapons, then magically, we seem to find trillions of dollars to authorize and spend.
“We need to pay more attention to the choices we make each year on how much spending our nation really requires for its national defense.
“I believe Congress needs to debate and vote on whether to keep sending more and more of our military men and women to fight in endless wars.
“I urge my colleagues to reject this limited rule and the underlying bill.”
“Congress must stop kicking the can down the road.
“It is unconscionable that the Republican leadership continues to prevent meaningful debate on these wars.
“But let me say one thing about why our House colleagues – Democrats and Republicans alike – keep bring these issues up: it’s because it’s our job.
“The American people sent us to Washington to debate the uncomfortable issues and to take the difficult votes.
“There are some in Congress who think it’s acceptable to give this Administration a blank check to continue these endless wars.
“There are others who would like to end them and bring our service men and women home.
“And there are others who look for a different policy somewhere between these two positions.
“This is why we need to debate these wars. This is why we need to bring updated AUMFs to the House floor for a vote.
“And if that’s a debate you’d rather not have. If that’s a vote you’d rather not take. Then, M. Speaker, you should look for a new job.
“I’m sure that I speak for all my colleagues when I say that protecting the lives and well-being of our uniformed men and women is one of the highest priorities of Congress.
“But they deserve more than a thank-you on Veterans Day.
“We do not respect their service and sacrifice and that of their families when we refuse to debate and take any responsibility for sending them year after year into war.
“They deserve a thoughtful, reasoned and engaged debate.
“And that is why, along with many of my Republican and Democrat colleagues, we will continue to demand that the Republican leadership of this House allow a debate and vote on the future of these wars.”
“I have been raising this issue, not just when Republicans are president, but when Democrats have been president. I really believe that Congress has forfeited its Constitutional responsibilities. We have abrogated our Constitutional responsibilities. We have acquiesced, time and time again to Democratic and Republican administrations when it comes to war. We can’t allow that to happen. That’s not responsible governing. And we have an obligation to make sure that whatever we’re doing with regard to our military, that it is the right thing to do.
“The idea that we once again, come to the floor with the National Defense Authorization bill and we’re told we can’t debate any of these things? We can’t vote on any of these things? Give me a break. What are you thinking? Why is this such a difficult thing to overcome with the leadership? Again, if my friends don’t want to take uncomfortable votes, then do something else. But it’s not the right thing to do. We should be ashamed of this process. There’s no justifying shutting out debate on war.