Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate today after Republicans refused to allow an up-or-down vote on the Levin-Reed amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, which would have reduced U.S. combat forces in Iraq by transitioning the mission away from policing an Iraq civil war to limited counter-terror, training and force protection operations.
After Republicans signaled that they would block all efforts to change course in Iraq, Reid temporarily lay the bill aside and asked for consent to move to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill. However, continuing their obstructionist tactics, Republicans again blocked Democratic efforts to begin debate on this bill and make America more secure. Following are Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“This has been a long week and it is only Wednesday. We have now been in session continuously for two days. On Monday I submitted a simple request for consent to proceed to an up-or-down vote on the Levin-Reed Amendment to the Defense Authorization bill. As I have stated, this amendment provides a clear, binding and responsible path to change the U.S. mission and reduce our combat presence in Iraq. It honors the sacrifices of our troops, reflects the will of the American people, and lets us rebuild and refocus our military on the growing threats we face throughout the world.
“Regrettably, Republicans chose to block this amendment. They chose to deny the American people an up-or-down vote on a bipartisan amendment. They chose to continue protecting their President instead of our troops – no matter the cost to our country. In contrast, my Democratic colleagues came to the floor throughout the night to make our case – and I am proud of what they have said and done.
“We have spent two days showing America that we will not back down, that we will keep fighting, that if President Bush and his allies in Congress refuse to budge, we will continue to show them the way. How could we possibly shrink from this fight? As we speak, many of our 160,000 men and women serving in Iraq are wrapping up another day of war on foreign sands. For them it was yet another day caught in an intractable civil war – Sunni versus Shia, Shia versus Sunni, Shia versus Shia, Sunni versus Sunni – with our troops caught in the crossfire.
“The high temperature today in Baghdad was about 115 degrees, and our troops were wearing about 100 pounds of equipment. This was the 1,583rd day of this war. They have served us each and every day with courage despite being taken to war falsely, prematurely and recklessly. They have served us each and every day with courage despite a President who still lacks a plan for success. They have served us each and every day with courage despite too many here in Congress who remain unwilling to change course.
“Those 160,000 troops deserve more. They and all Americans deserve a debate and votes on legislation that will finally provide them the strategy to honor their great sacrifices. As we have just seen, a bipartisan majority of the Senate supports the Levin-Reed amendment. A bipartisan majority of the Senate supports a binding new policy that would responsibly bring the war to an end so that we can return our focus and resources to the real threats and challenges our country faces.
“Yet a Republican minority blocked a vote on the bipartisan amendment that would deliver that new course and chose to stand behind the President and his tragic failure. So, I am filled today with a mixture of pride and regret. Pride for my colleagues – Democrats and Republicans – who have risen to this crucial cause and given the American people the debate they deserve. Yet regret for my colleagues who have blocked the will of the people and the majority of the Congress.
“I believe the will of the people must be heeded and I believe this critical vote must proceed. In an effort to make progress on this issue and this bill, I will therefore request unanimous consent to move to a vote on the four Iraq amendments to the Defense Authorization bill outlined yesterday morning in my letter to Senator McConnell. My consent request is eminently fair. It would provide up-or-down – yes or no – votes on three other bipartisan Iraq amendments in exchange for the same on the Levin-Reed amendment. Under my proposal we would vote on these Iraq amendments: (1) Levin/Reed, (2) Lugar/Warner, (3) Salazar/Alexander, (4) Nelson/Collins. In addition, I also indicated in my letter I am prepared to agree to up-or-down votes on other amendments as well.
“Therefore, I ask unanimous consent that when the Senate considers the following Iraq amendments, they be subject to majority votes:
- The pending Levin-Reed amendment;
- The Byrd-Clinton de-authorization amendment;
- The Warner-Lugar amendment, number 2208;
- The Salazar-Alexander Iraq Study Group amendment;
- The Nelson-Collins amendment, number 2124; and
- Senator Landrieu’s Al Qaeda amendment.
[Unanimous consent blocked by Republicans]
“I am disappointed to see that Republicans have once again chosen obstruction over progress. I understand that Senate rules allow for the minority to filibuster the will of the majority, but that is not the tradition on this bill and it should not be the path that is chosen given the stakes involved. But because Republicans continue to block votes on important amendments to the Defense Authorization bill, we can make no further progress on Iraq and this bill at this time.
“Progress is also blocked by two other troubling realities:
- More than 300 amendments have been filed and we have not been able to get a finite list of amendments for consideration.
- Majority and minority staff of the Armed Services Committee have been unable to work in a bipartisan manner to clear large numbers of routine amendments due to the objections of one or two members on the other side of the aisle. The Chairman and ranking member have been able to clear amendments in this fashion for as long as I can remember. But not this year and not with this handful of dedicated obstructionists.
“For these reasons, I have temporarily laid aside the Defense Authorization bill and have entered a motion to reconsider. But let me be clear to my Republican colleagues – I emphasize the word “temporarily.” We will do everything in our power to change course in Iraq. We will do everything in our power to complete consideration of a Defense Authorization bill. We must do both. And just to remind my Republican colleagues – even if this bill had passed yesterday, its provisions would not take effect until October. So we will come back to this bill as soon as it is clear we can make real progress. To that end, I have asked the Democratic Whip and Democratic Manager of the bill to sit down with their counterparts to work on a process to address all outstanding issues related to this bill so the Senate can return to it as soon as possible.
“In the meantime, we will continue to work with our Republican colleagues who are saying the right things on Iraq but aren’t yet committed to voting the right way. We will get there. As W.E. Gladstone once said, “You cannot fight against the future. Time is on our side.” In this case, time and the American people are on our side. The Levin-Reed amendment would have allowed us to rebuild our badly overburdened military and return our focus to the real security threats posed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. As the new National Intelligence Estimate makes clear, these growing threats demand our attention.
“President Bush likes to say that we must fight the terrorists in Iraq so that we do not have to fight them here at home. But we all know that there was no Al Qaeda force in Iraq prior to the war. And as the President’s own intelligence experts admit, the war has only stoked the flames of terrorists and made us more vulnerable to attack. These experts concluded in the National Intelligence Estimate that the threat to our homeland is growing as al Qaeda has regenerated its capacity to launch attacks.
“Although the Bush Administration’s preoccupation with Iraq has prevented us from effectively addressing that threat, there is important action the Senate can take. Therefore I will ask consent to move to consideration of the homeland security bill. This critically important legislation provides $37.6 billion for homeland security activities – $2.3 billion more than the Administration requested. This bill, which was reported out unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee, will give the Senate an opportunity to show who is serious about protecting America from terrorists attack.
“I would hope that given the urgency of the national security issue, as highlighted by the National Intelligence Estimate – and the need to make progress on appropriations bills – we can move to consideration of this most important bill. I now ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, H.R. 2638.
[Unanimous consent blocked by Republicans]
“At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is extraordinarily discouraging. First they prevented us from acting on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Then on changing the course in Iraq. And now this. We have all seen and heard the reports that our intelligence community has concluded Al Qaeda strength has grown to its 9/11 levels and the Homeland Security Secretary’s statement that he had a ‘gut feeling’ we were at greater risk to be attacked this summer by terrorists. In spite of all of this, we have just seen the latest example of Republican obstruction to slow or prevent Senate consideration of bipartisan legislation that would make America more secure.
“Their latest obstruction will delay important investments in:
- Border security – This bill hires 3,000 more border patrol agents and 4,000 additional detention beds
- Port security – This bill provides $400 million in port security grants
- First responders – This bill provides $1.83 billion for state and local first-responder grants
- Aviation security – This bill funds purchase and installation of explosives detection equipment at airports
“In an effort to use our time effectively while the cloture motion on Homeland Security ripens, I will ask consent to proceed to the Education Reconciliation bill, a bipartisan bill that will make a college education more affordable for hundreds of thousands of students.”