Protesting that the bill stands in his way of closing Guantanamo, President Obama vetoed the defense reauthorization bill despite warnings from Congress that he would be putting national security at risk.
At his veto signing today, Obama acknowledged that the National Defense Authorization Act “does a number of good things,” like “makes sure that our military is funded.”
“Unfortunately, it falls woefully short in three areas. Number one, it keeps in place the sequester that is inadequate for us to properly fund our military in a stable, sustained way and allows all of our armed forces to plan properly,” he said, arguing the bill “instead resorts to gimmicks that does not allow the Pentagon to do what it needs to do.”
Second, he said, it “prevents a wide range of reforms that are necessary for us to get our military modernized and able to deal with the many threats that are presenting themselves in the 21st century.” And finally, “this legislation specifically impeded our ability to close Guantanamo in a way that I have repeatedly argued is counterproductive to our efforts to defeat terrorism around the world.”
“Guantanamo is one of the premiere mechanisms for jihadists to recruit,” Obama said. “It’s time for us to close it. It is outdated; it’s expensive; it’s been there for years. And we can do better in terms of keeping our people safe while making sure that we are consistent with our values.”
Thus, the president said, he’s sending the bill back to Congress with the “simple” message of “let’s do this right.”
The chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), issued a joint statement calling the veto “not only unprecedented, but it is reckless, cynical, and downright dangerous.”
“Never before has an American president used the bill that provides pay and support to our troops and their families as political leverage for his domestic agenda,” the chairmen said, stressing that it “authorizes exactly as much money as the president requested for national defense.”
“At a time when crises around the world have never been greater, and when U.S. global leadership has never been weaker, this veto will only intensify the challenges we face while putting vital missions in danger.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), also on the Armed Services Committee, said “a commander in Ccief who vetoes the defense authorization bill — when our country faces growing threats and our military is being hollowed out — has completely lost his way.”
“Radical Islam is running wild under President Obama’s watch while the Chinese and Russians are walking all over us. Iran is now on the path toward a nuclear weapon. All the while, we’re headed toward the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in history,” Graham said.
“I fear President Obama has completely lost touch with the dangers we face as a nation. He will go down in history as one of the poorest commanders in chief we’ve ever had.”
The House Armed Services Committee released a fact sheet rebutting Obama’s statements at the veto signing. For one, “as an authorizing bill, the NDAA does not have the power to end sequester.” On the reform point, the bill “implements fundamental reform of DOD’s broken and wasteful acquisition system, including twelve of the fourteen acquisition reforms the Department requested,” the committee said. And: “The president has never submitted a plan for closing Guantanamo Bay.”
A veto override vote in the House is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) slammed Obama as “willing to risk fully supporting our troops with the resources they need in order to score political points” on his Guantanamo closure agenda.
“The NDAA has been signed into law annually for decades, because even a divided Washington understands that standing behind our troops is essential to their mission and America’s security,” Scott said. “I am shocked that the president would take such an irresponsible step in order to try and fulfill a political promise, and I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to block the transfer of dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo to American soil.”
Scott plans a Guantanamo visit in a few days with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). Rumors that some states are on the shortlist for getting Guantanamo detainees has put many senators on edge, including Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who reacted furiously to reports last month that the United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colo., was being eyed for transfers.
Today, Gardner, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the veto “unconscionable.”
“When NDAA came up for a vote earlier this month, 70 senators, members of both parties, supported it,” Gardner said. “It is my hope those same senators will come together to overturn this reckless veto and give our troops the tools they need to protect our country.”