Providing for Consideration of H.R. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year and Providing for Consideration of Motions to Suspend the Rules

Floor Speech

Date: July 10, 2019
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I appreciate that admonition. I promise you, you won't have to repeat that again on my time.

I appreciate my friend from Massachusetts yielding the time.

I had a whole wonderful opening statement planned, Madam Speaker. It was going to be our first time down here on the floor together during a rule.

Janet Rossi, on my team, put together all the great stats and statistics, many of which you heard my friend from Massachusetts reference.

And then, as happens to me so often on the Rules Committee, I show up in a good mood, I show up in a great place, and then folks just poke me in that way that gets me going.

For my friend from Massachusetts to close with the Republicans have turned this into a partisan exercise frustrates me to no end.

If there is one thing I have learned in my 9 years in Congress, Madam Speaker, it is that when it comes to American national security, it never gets turned into a partisan exercise.

I don't know how your election went, Madam Speaker, or what it was that your constituents said to you. Mine talked to me a lot about congressional dysfunction.

``Why can't they get anything done, Rob?''

``Why in the world can't you all get together and cooperate?''

And I always respond with the bill that we are looking at today, the National Defense Authorization Act. I say: In six decades of working, depending on who was in the White House, who was leading the House, who was leading the Senate, six decades of working on National Defense Authorization Acts that need to be passed every single year, how many times do you think we have actually successfully gotten that done together?

You know how that conversation goes, Madam Speaker.

``Rob, I think you guys have gotten it done once in 60 years.''

``Rob, I think it has happened 4 times, maybe 12 times.''

Madam Speaker, you know what I know, which is that, over these decades, every single year, without fail--it does not matter who is in the White House; it does not matter who leads the U.S. House; it does not matter who leads the United States Senate--we come together as a Nation to support our men and women who are standing on the frontlines for us.

So, no, this is not a partisan exercise today, nor should it be from the Republican side of the aisle.

But I am mystified, Madam Speaker, as to why we have taken what should have been this continuation of decade upon decade upon decade of bipartisanship and seemingly gone out of our way, as a new Democratic majority, to make it partisan.

I know the policy isn't. I know the policy isn't. I can go right down the line, man after woman, woman after man, on the Democratic side of the aisle and find patriots who love this country and who will do whatever it takes to defend it. That is the conversation we had in the Rules Committee last night.

But I will take you back to my freshman year in Congress, Madam Speaker. I came in with that rabid class of freshman Republicans, that largest freshman class in American history. You would think, if we were going to find partisanship, we would find it in that class.

We all came in on that big Tea Party wave, folks wanting to shake things up, change things. Do you know what the National Defense Authorization Act looked like coming out of committee that year?

It passed 60-1, Republicans and Democrats standing together. The year after that, 56-5. That is what my freshman year looked like: 60-1, 56- 5, Republicans and Democrats standing together on behalf of national security.

I don't know if you have looked at the vote from the Armed Services Committee, Madam Speaker. I know you are familiar. It was 33-24, straight party-line vote, coming out of committee this year.

In the Rules Committee last night up on the third floor, Madam Speaker, we finished up about midnight. I had the chairman and the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee there talking about all the things that they agree on as it comes to national security, yet, to my friend from Massachusetts' point, the marching orders came down from somewhere that prevented them from doing what we have always done, and that is report a bill in a bipartisan fashion.

It has nothing to do with who leads this Congress, Madam Speaker.

About 12 years ago now, when the very first woman to ever hold the Speaker's chair took over--that would be 2007, Madam Speaker--we didn't bring the bill to the floor under a rule in a partisan fashion. We brought the bill to the floor under suspension.

Madam Speaker, that very first bill that was passed in the Pelosi Speakership passed 369-46 on the floor of the House; 369-46. Most of the no votes were Democrats voting against the new Democratic Speaker of the House and the national security bill; 369-46.

The year after that, the last year of the new Speakership, the year right before I came, it passed 341-48.

Madam Speaker, I go through these big numbers to make the point that it didn't have to be this way. We went out of our way, it seems, as an institution, to divide on national security. I will just give you a few of those examples.

There are 439 amendments made in order, as my friend from Massachusetts pointed out, and I think we should celebrate that. But again, there were 683 amendments offered, so 250 Members were shut out.

Madam Speaker, we had an opportunity, under the new Consensus Calendar that my friend from Massachusetts referenced, to bring bipartisan legislation to the floor.

For folks who haven't been following that, the only way to get to the House floor is to have a committee report your bill. If committees don't report your bill, you can't get to the House floor unless you end up on the suspension calendar.

This new majority, this new Democratic majority, changed the rules in what I think is an amazingly positive and productive way. What they said is, if you bring together enough Democrats and Republicans to support your bill, we are going to have to give you a special pathway to the House floor for those consensus ideas that we want to celebrate together as an institution.

Madam Speaker, my friend, Joe Wilson from South Carolina has such a bill. It is a bill to support the widows and widowers of our fallen servicemen and women. He has worked this bill with my friend from Kentucky, Mr. Yarmuth, and this is the very first bill to have achieved, again, this new level of excellence that the new majority laid out. If you can bring people together we will give you a special pathway to the House floor. You get a vote on your bill.

I might point out that my friend from California, Ms. Lofgren, did this very same thing. She did it on a piece of immigration legislation that I am a cosponsor of. She put together the requisite number of Republicans and Democrats, and her bill is coming to the floor, too.

Now, her bill is coming to the floor today on suspension, stand- alone, up-or-down vote to allow Republicans and Democrats to come together and support that idea.

My friend, Mr. Wilson's bill, without his knowledge, without his consultation, without his input, has been tucked into this rule, this partisan rule, this passed-by-party-line-vote rule, to be self-enacted into the underlying legislation.

I expressed my frustration to the chairman last night; that so often we fail in ways that meet the very low expectations of our constituents. This was a wonderful, positive change that Speaker Pelosi and the new Democratic majority brought to this institution. Madam Speaker, it is a change that I hope will be a lasting change. It is a change that I hope will persist no matter who sits in the Speaker's chair over the next decade upon decade.

But our very first opportunity to use it, we moved it from its design, which was to be an opportunity to celebrate those things that bring us together, those hard nuts that we figured out a way to crack together, and we have turned it into yet another exercise in ``gotcha'' partisan politics.

The men and women who will be served by this legislation deserve better than that. The men and women who serve in this institution deserve better than that. And when the new Democratic majority was sworn in on the first day of this Congress, they promised the American people better than that.

Madam Speaker, today won't be the last word on this issue; but it is the first word, and it is an unfortunate one.

I hope that my colleagues will be cognizant of this mistake that they have made, and I hope that they will correct it before it is too late.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I thank you for that second admonition. I did say you wouldn't have to use it again on my side of the aisle. I can commit to you that you still will not have to issue one on our side of the aisle.

I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. Cole), the ranking member of the Rules Committee.

Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, I have become accustomed to your gentle gavel in the Budget Committee, and I appreciate its gentleness here on the floor, as well.

I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Wilson), whose bill you have been so instrumental in, as well.

Mr. WILSON of South Carolina. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Georgia for yielding this time. I appreciate his leadership.

H.R. 553, the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act, is a bipartisan bill with over 365 cosponsors. In fact, it is rare that a bill garners this many cosponsors and was amongst the first to reach the new threshold for mandatory consideration under the Consensus Calendar. I am grateful that colleagues on both sides of the aisle support this legislation to repeal the ``widow's tax.''

Thank you to all of the surviving spouses and advocates who have worked diligently and tirelessly on this legislation. The bill would have been eligible for a vote this Friday.

Instead, Democratic leadership has decided to specifically bar this bill from independent consideration and include it in the flawed, partisan NDAA. In fact, the rule for the NDAA specifically states:

Rule XV of the Consensus Calendar shall not apply with respect to H.R. 553.

Democratic leadership has essentially said, if the NDAA does not pass, the widow's tax doesn't pass.

Further, leadership has put this bill at risk of the conference with the Senate. Democratic leadership knows that it is not included in the Senate's version of the NDAA, and I am disappointed with the other side.

I even offered a bipartisan amendment with Chairman John Yarmuth to have this legislation be included in the NDAA, but they did not make that amendment in order. Instead, Democrats placed their own amendment in a partisan rule and are forcing the stand-alone bill to be barred from the Consensus Calendar.

This is partisan politics at its worst. This is heartbreaking for the 65,000 military widows who have worked tirelessly and very effectively to mobilize support behind the bill.

At the peak of their hopes that this bill would pass the United States House of Representatives this week, leadership now has put the bill in jeopardy. Instead of supporting our military and the military families, including those who have died and sacrificed for this country, the majority has chosen to violate their own rules and put the bill in jeopardy. This tactic cheapens the efforts of these military widows by turning their real-world plight into a partisan tactic.

A stand-alone bill in the Senate with over 365 House cosponsors would have had a better chance of passing and sent a clear and overwhelming message of support to these widows. Instead, we will be sending this over in a partisan bill, almost ensuring its demise in the Senate. This is a disservice to the widows who deserve better.

I am grateful for Ranking Member Tom Cole, who argued against making H.R. 553 as part of this self-executing rule. He is right that this shortcuts the process and is politics at its worse.

Our team followed the rules the Democrats set forth to have this overwhelmingly bipartisan piece of legislation set for a vote, and they decided to play partisan politics and remove it. Further, the Rules Committee failed to notify my staff and even failed to notify the community that would be most directly impacted by their actions: the widows who have worked tirelessly to generate support for H.R. 553.

The community, inspired by veterans service organizations, gave all, and this Congress can't even follow its own rules. It is sad how the majority has undermined this important bill in the manner they have done.

Barring this bill from independent consideration is outright wrong, and I ask that each of my Democratic and Republican colleagues think long and hard about the implications of this parliamentary gimmick.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

You see the challenges that we are confronted with here. My friend from Massachusetts is telling my friend from South Carolina how my friend from South Carolina should get his bill to the United States Senate. There is no one who has worked harder on this issue than Mr. Wilson has. There is no one whose heart is in this issue more than Mr. Wilson's is.

I hope you listened carefully to his heartfelt words, because the key point that he made is that this really wonderful, bipartisan creation of the new Democratic majority, this Consensus Calendar, if we pass the rule today will be specifically turned off specifically for Mr. Wilson's bill.

The new majority can play whatever partisan games they want to, I wish they wouldn't, but they can, with the underlying bill by stuffing in self-enacting amendments, by adding amendments after the fact, all the games that majorities sometimes play, but the new rules that you voted for, Madam Speaker, that my friend from Massachusetts brags about on his website, rightfully so, because there were important changes in those rules, the very first time we have an opportunity to utilize those rules, Mr. Wilson's bill was ripened for consideration before the House this week, it is not simply that folks have stolen his language and tucked it into this partisan underlying piece of legislation, they have specifically in the rule today prohibited him from availing himself, and by himself, I mean hundreds of our colleagues and thousands of widows that they represent, from availing themselves of the new tool created by the new House majority this year.

I do not value the new majority's use of partisan tools in the NDAA, but I understand that is the right of a new majority.

My friend from Massachusetts is exactly right. When you lose elections, losing elections has consequences, but when you pass rules, passing rules has consequences, too.

I am going to be fascinated by what happens here in about an hour and a half when the members of the new majority are confronted with an opportunity to turn off the new bipartisan reforms they just codified in the House rules 6 months ago.

This should have been a day of celebrating a positive new change from a new administration, and instead, it is a day of playing politics with families that have already given much too much to the United States of America.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, my friend from Massachusetts is right. We have made a lot of amendments in order in this bill today, but in the absence of an open rule, we are never able to consider all of the ideas.

One of the ideas we have not had a chance to consider is whether or not we should be doing business through the Department of Defense with companies that have a direct or indirect subsidiary company that is under the control of the Chinese Government or the Communist Party.

The ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, Mr. Thornberry, has such an amendment. If we defeat the previous question, Madam Speaker, I will offer that amendment, which does exactly that. It prohibits the Department of Defense from contracting with any company that is a direct or indirect subsidiary of a company in which the Chinese Government or the Chinese Communist Party has a controlling interest.

Now, on the list of things I would put on the common bipartisan list of ideas, not doing business with communist China would be one. We have seen that over and over again. We are in the midst right now of ripping out security cameras all across this country manufactured by the Chinese as a result of a prohibition in last year's National Defense Authorization Act.

Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, parliamentary inquiry.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I am holding the Rules of the House here that say in rule XV, clause 7, paragraph (c), ``After a measure has maintained at least 290 cosponsors for a cumulative period of 25 legislative days after the presentation of a motion under paragraph (b)(1), the measure shall be placed on the Consensus Calendar. Such measure shall remain on the Consensus Calendar until it is'' either ``considered in the House; or'' . . . ``reported by the committee of primary jurisdiction.''

Does tucking a measure into the underlying bill, as the self-enacting amendment does today, satisfy the (c)(1) requirement that it be considered in the House?


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, the gentleman has only yielded me 30 minutes, but I would be happy to reserve so that the gentleman can respond.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I would say to my friend from Massachusetts, I don't believe I have any further speakers remaining.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I have enjoyed serving on the gentleman from Massachusetts' Rules Committee; I confess, not as much as I enjoyed serving on the gentleman from Texas' Rules Committee, but it is because when you are on the Rules Committee, there are nine members in the majority and four members in the minority.

Now, we have talked a lot of math, a lot of votes, a lot of numbers today, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happens when you serve on a committee where there are nine majority members and four minority members, and the answer is, what happens is you lose, and you lose a lot.

That is the privilege of being in the majority. When the American people send a new Speaker and a new majority here, that new majority gets to craft the process however they want to.

When we crafted the process when I was in the majority, we gave the minority more amendments than we gave the majority, and we did that because majorities have powers as committee chairmen. They don't have to put everything on the amendment calendar. They can tuck it into a bill.

As the roles have been reversed, again my friend from Massachusetts is making in order a record number of amendments today. He is making in order five times more Democratic amendments, folks who already have all the tools of power, than he is minority Republican amendments.

Again, it is the power of the majority. They get to do that if they want to do that. Is it fair? Well, we didn't think so. That is why we did it differently. But if that is what the gentleman wants to do, he can do it.

But to tuck a bipartisan measure--and I don't mean ``bipartisan'' because one Member signed onto it or two Members signed onto it; I mean ``bipartisan'' because hundreds of Members signed onto it--into a measure that intentionally lifts one party up while putting its foot on the throat of amendments of the other party does not constitute bipartisanship by any stretch of the imagination.

When my friend from Massachusetts was talking about the rules package--and he is the author of the rules package. I stipulate, no one knows more about the rules package than he does.

His heart was in the right place when he added this new Consensus Calendar. He said this: ``It unrigs the rules so the people's House actually works for the people again. Americans demanded a new direction, and this rules package will immediately usher in a new era for this Congress.''

We are 6 months later, Madam Speaker, and we heard from the author of the bill that is the subject of contention today. We heard from the author, the one who has gone out to do all the heavy lifting, do all the work to build all the bipartisanship--again, not one Member or two Members, but hundreds of Members. He said he wanted to avail himself of the Consensus Calendar to get a vote on the floor of the House, an unbiased, unrigged vote because, as my friend from Massachusetts said, the new rules package ``unrigs the rules.''

Yet, before we have considered anything else on the Consensus Calendar this entire year--Mr. Wilson's bill is number one on that Consensus Calendar--we are confronted with a rule today that turns off the very provision that my friend from Massachusetts inserted in the House rules package to unrig the process.

I don't question the motives of any Member of this institution, Madam Speaker, and partisan motives are fair game around here. We all wish that they weren't, but occasionally, they are.

When my friend from Massachusetts says that he has done this, this unprecedented use of the Consensus Calendar and turning it off, he says he is doing it so that the bill has the best chance of passage in the Senate and becoming law by being signed on the President's desk. I take him at his word that he means exactly that.

But I ask you, Madam Speaker, when the author of the bill, the one who has done all the work, not just for a week, not for a month, but for years to get this bill to a place where it can be considered by the Senate, why in the world would we not honor his request, his wish, his desire? Even if they are going to tuck it into this provision, why not allow the Consensus Calendar to take its course and get him the vote that he has worked so hard in a bipartisan way to achieve? If this isn't about partisan politics, why not give us two bites at making this the law of the land instead of just one?

If my friend from Massachusetts is right, and when we take a separate vote on this bill on Friday, it just disappears into the ethos, then no harm, no foul. But if my friend is wrong and the partisan game that is being played today exacts a toll--and it is not a toll on us as Members of Congress, but it is a toll on the widows of the members of our Armed Forces--then we all know that is a game that has gone too far.

I urge rejection of this rule. Defeat the previous question, allow our amendment, reject this rule, and allow the bipartisanship that this new majority offered and then enacted to come to fruition for the very first time.

Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I have a parliamentary inquiry.


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, I appreciate the gentleman yielding. I am a little confused about what has happened, Madam Speaker. Are we about to begin a new hour of debate on a new amendment after we just finished the hour of debate on the underlying rule?


Mr. WOODALL. Under the new hour, Madam Speaker?


Mr. WOODALL. Well, then I would ask my friend from Massachusetts--I only had 6 minutes to yield before, and I confess I did not yield any of them to my friend. The gentleman now has 60 minutes--could I ask for more than a minute of his time, the customary 30 minutes?


Mr. WOODALL. Madam Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.

The yeas and nays were ordered.