Mr. President, I rise to discuss the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. I am very pleased that we were able to pass the conference report with a bipartisan vote of 87 to 10. I think it represents the quality of the work that was done by my colleagues Senator Inhofe; Congressman Thornberry, the chairman of the House committee; and also Ranking Member Smith. I thank them for their thoughtfulness and cooperation throughout the conference. The passage in the Senate follows the passage last week by a vote of 359 to 54 in the House of Representatives—another strong bipartisan endorsement of the legislation on behalf of the men and women in uniform and the national security of the United States. Also, at this point, I would like to take a moment to recognize Senator John McCain. He has been an extraordinary leader throughout my tenure in the Senate, someone who has been committed to the welfare of the men and women of the military, someone who has spent his life in service to the Nation with courage, with valor, and with exceptional self-sacrifice for all of us. I am sure he is very proud today that this legislation, which bears his name, has passed and become law. Senator McCain has also done something that some people would think impossible; that is, to have a West Point graduate admit that, in many cases, he is indispensable to the national security of the United States. I say that with great affection and great sincerity.
Let me highlight several areas that I think are important in this legislation. The bill includes important personnel funding and policy provisions, including a 2.6-percent, across-the-board pay raise for our men and women in uniform. It fully funds the military services’ end-strength requests for fiscal year 2019. We are going to bring our troops—particularly, the Army—to the desired strength of our military leaders. It provides $50 million in impact aid for heavily impacted local school districts all across the country. This is critical of the quality of life for the families who serve us, as well as their servicemembers. There are a number of provisions updating the Officer Personnel Management System to enhance recruitment, promotion, and retention of highly skilled officers. With respect to the Army, the bill fully funds a number of critical Army programs, to include the Abrams battle tanks, as well as Apache and Blackhawk helicopters. The bill also makes targeted investments to improve the range and lethality of Army artillery systems, and it supports the fielding of active protection systems on our combat vehicles in order to better protect our soldiers. With respect to the Navy, the conference agreement provides additional funds for vessels for the Navy, including two more littoral combat ships, three more ship-to-shore connectors, and a cable repair ship. The agreement also provides additional money to help second- and third-tier contractors ramp up production to support our Columbia- and Virginia-class submarine acquisition programs. With regard to the Air Force, the bill provides for additional funding to support the light attack aircraft, or the OA-X. The agreement also ensures the Air Force will maintain the current capability of the JSTARS aircraft fleet while they develop new capabilities to replace, and perhaps even improve, the current ground support capability of the JSTARS fleet. This bill represents what has been the hallmark of Secretary Mattis’s strategic vision. It reflects the strategic shift toward prioritization of the strategic competition between Russia and China. It supports the President’s budget request for resources to deter and, if necessary, defend against aggression from near-peer competitors. This includes $6.3 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative as a continuing demonstration of our commitment to the security of our European allies and the deterrence of Russian expansionism. It also requires a 5-year plan from the Department for the AsiaPacific Stability Initiative on the necessary resources and activities that counter China’s destabilizing behavior in the region.
The bill also includes a provision calling on the administration to urgently complete a comprehensive strategy to counter Russian malign influence below the level of direct military conflict. Russia attacked the heart of our democracy in 2016, and our intelligence experts warn of even more sophisticated Russian attacks targeting this year’s midterm elections. Yet the administration has failed to bring together our military and nonmilitary tools of national power to counter this Russian aggression, despite a requirement in last year’s NDAA to submit to Congress a wholeof-government strategy to counter Russian malign influence. This bill expresses the sense of the Congress that the administration should complete a counter-Russian influence strategy without delay. The conference report also includes a provision that authorizes the President to employ Department of Defense cyber forces to take actions to disrupt the operations of Russian actors attempting to penetrate our election systems and campaign organizations and to plant false and divisive information on social media sites.
As I mentioned, the Secretary’s national defense policy, which the President endorses, focuses on the shift to the near-peer adversaries of Russia and China. Our legislation reflects that, but we cannot forget the threat from ISIS and extremist organizations. It persists.This bill continues critical programs aimed at countering these groups. Of note, it extends the Iraqi and Syrian train-and-equip programs at the requested funding levels, while requiring appropriate information with respect to the partner forces to be trained and the expected level of engagement with U.S. forces. This is a prudent approach that recognizes the continued threat from ISIS while ensuring appropriate oversight of these authorities in a dynamic environment. I am also pleased the bill includes provisions designed to incorporate lessons learned from the campaign against ISIS that could be more effectively used to account for and respond to allegations of civilian casualties going forward. The bill fully funds the request for U.S. Special Operations Command and includes important provisions to enhance the ability of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict to act as the ‘‘service secretary-like’’ civilian responsible for the oversight and advocacy of the Special Operations forces that do so much for us. As we discussed before the vote, the bill also focuses on the issue of the ZTE-Huawei issue that came before this Congress. The conference agreement includes a provision that prohibits the Federal Government and government contractors—this is governmentwide—from buying or using or providing grants and loans to entities buying or using telecommunications equipment and services provided by Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei due to our serious concerns that these companies represent security risks and have violated U.S. sanctions and export control laws. The provision also bans the use of video surveillance equipment from several Chinese companies due to concerns about security risks and infringement of intellectual property rights. The conferees recognize the burden this ban will place on some telecommunications providers, particularly in rural areas, and included direction that government agencies shall prioritize available funding to enable these providers to replace the equipment they have procured from Chinese companies.
I am also particularly pleased the conference agreement includes a Senate floor amendment that I authored to ensure that as we proceed to develop new or modified nuclear weapons, the Congress is in a position to provide rigorous oversight to any such request. Given the powerful nature of these weapons, it is essential we maintain our oversight capability on this subject matter. The conference report also contains important oversight language to ensure our Nation can produce the plutonium pits the Department of Defense requires. Los Alamos is our Nation’s center of excellence in research and manufacturing of plutonium, and we need to maintain our focus on this laboratory in order to ensure the Department of Defense meets their stockpile requirements with respect to pit production. The conference report contains a number of important provisions related to Turkey. I want to acknowledge the valuable leadership of Senators Shaheen and Tillis in this regard. Turkey is an important NATO ally, and the U.S.-Turkey defense cooperation is multifaceted and deep. However, Turkey’s announcement of its intent to buy the Russian S–400 air defense system threatens the integrity of the NATO alliance and would have a significant negative impact on defense cooperation between the United States and Turkey. In addition, the Turkish Government’s unlawful detention of Pastor Brunson and other wrongfully held Americans has raised serious questions and concerns about its commitment to the shared values of the NATO alliance and the rule of law. The NDAA conference report calls for their immediate release and requires the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to report to Congress on the status of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, including the impact of Turkey’s potential purchase of the S–400 system on the bilateral relationship. The report must also assess, should Turkey proceed with the S–400 purchase, what the impact would be of a significant change in Turkey’s participation in the F–35 aircraft program, including reduction or elimination of Turkey’s participation. The assessment must include the steps required to mitigate the negative impact of such a change on the United States and other international partners in the F–35 program. The provision also prohibits the Department of Defense from delivering any F–35 aircraft to Turkey until the required report is submitted to the appropriate congressional committees.
One issue in this year’s NDAA conference negotiations related to Russia sanctions is the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. CAATSA was an excellent piece of legislation, and the Presiding Officer knows very well because he was the chief author and architect of this bill. I want to take a moment to explain exactly what the conference report does with respect to CAATSA and how the Defense Department intends to use the limited waiver for secondary sanctions provided in this year’s NDAA. As I said, I strongly support CAATSA. It was a remarkable piece of work, passing this Senate by 98 to 2. Again, it is a tribute to the leadership not only of the Presiding Officer but Senator MENENDEZ of New Jersey and all of our colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Its sanctions are powerful tools for holding Russia accountable for its interference in our elections and its aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere. As I said, the Senate passed it overwhelmingly, 98 to 2. We have found that the Trump administration has been resisting fully implementing the tough sanctions against Russia that are found in CAATSA, and I urge those sanctions be vigorously enforced. During Senate consideration of the fiscal year 2019 defense budget request, Defense Secretary Mattis raised a concern about one aspect of CAATSA, relating to the secondary sanctions in section 231 on countries or entities that do business with the Russian intelligence or defense sectors. These mandatory sanctions restrict U.S. arms sales and certain financial dealings with countries or entities that engage in a significant transaction to purchase major Russian weapons systems. As Secretary Mattis testified, these secondary sanctions can, however, have the unintended consequence of punishing certain strategic partners that have legacy Russian weapons systems but are looking to transition away from Russia and toward increased purchases of U.S. major defense equipment. Because these countries may buy Russian systems to maintain current capabilities, section 231 sanctions would block U.S. arms sales to them, effectively pushing these countries closer to Russia and making them more dependent on Russian weapons systems. This is the opposite effect of what CAATSA is intended to achieve and undermines our efforts to isolate Russia globally. To address these concerns, Secretary Mattis requested a straight national security waiver to section 231 mandatory sanctions. While CAATSA, as enacted, does include a broad national security waiver, the waiver is subject to CAATSA’s expedited review procedures, which provides Congress between 30 and 60 days to review the waiver request. If Congress objects, Congress can try to pass a joint resolution of disapproval under the expedited procedures. If Congress fails to enact a resolution of disapproval within the review period, then the waiver takes effect. The administration contended that CAATSA’s national security waiver, subject to the expedited review procedures, was unworkable. They claimed that because the mandatory sanctions that would kick in while Congress reviewed the waiver request for up to 60 days or more—this would cause significant harm to our defense partnerships with these countries and drive them away from purchasing major U.S. defense equipment. In response, the House bill included authority for the President to waive section 231’s mandatory sanctions on countries or entities buying major Russian defense equipment if the President makes certain certifications, primarily that the purchaser is reducing its reliance on the Russian defense sector. The House bill was a very wide-open waiver. The only representation of certification the President would make is that the Nation was attempting to move away from Russian influence and Russian supplies. We worked very closely with House colleagues. The Senate version of the NDAA did not have any language with CAATSA, but we had to respond to the House because it was a legitimate issue in conference. Indeed, one of the reasons we avoided any sort of discussion with respect to CAATSA in the Senate was the feeling that there might be a negative impact on the ongoing bilateral relationship with Turkey to persuade the Turkish Government to reverse its decision to buy the Russian S– 400 air defense system. Turkey’s purchase of the S–400 would almost trigger mandatory sanctions under section 231 and put our defense cooperation with Turkey at risk, including on the F–35 aircraft. The final conference outcome, after discussions back and forth, in a very serious and very thoughtful way, was a very narrow waiver for section 231 sanctions only and reflects a number of important changes to the House provision that raised the bar for the President even to be able to invoke this waiver. First, the conference outcome preserves all existing CAATSA sanctions currently in effect against Russia, including sanctions for Russia’s election interference and aggression against Ukraine. Second, the waiver is not available for any transactions with entities in the Russian defense and intelligence sectors that were directly involved in Russian cyber intrusions, including the Russian military intelligence, or GRU. This preserves the purpose of section 231 sanctions, which is to impose costs on the Russian defense and intelligence sectors for cyber intrusions. Third, the waiver is limited in order to keep the pressure on Turkey to reverse its decision to purchase the Russian S–400 air defense system. The waiver is not available for any deals to purchase Russian weapons systems that would harm the integrity of NATO or other alliances in which the United States participates or that would adversely affect ongoing U.S. or coalition operations or that would harm U.S. defense cooperation with the country involved or that would significantly increase the risk of compromising U.S. defense systems or operational capabilities, including through the diversion of sensitive U.S. defense technology. These restrictions are intended to let the Government of Turkey know that the waiver is not a get-of-jail-free card for section 231’s mandatory sanctions if Turkey goes ahead and purchases the S–400. Fourth, the conference outcome allows for continued defense cooperation with countries transitioning away from Russia. Secondary sanctions may be waived only if the country is reducing its dependence on Russian major weapons systems or is cooperating with the United States on security matters critical to our strategic interests. This restriction should be narrowly understood to mean that the country involved is cooperating with the United States in the strategic competition with Russia or China, consistent with the administration’s national defense strategy authored by Secretary Mattis. As set in the national defense strategy, the central challenge to U.S. security today is the ‘‘re-emergence of longterm strategic competition’’ by revisionist powers—specifically Russia and China. Fifth, the conference outcome provides for congressional review under a 30-day notice-and-wait period as an alternative to expedited congressional review procedures provided under CAATSA. Congress would still have 30 days to review the President’s certifications with regard to any sanctionable activity and to weigh in with its concerns. Sixth, the conference outcome also enhances congressional oversight of CAATSA’s secondary sanctions by adding a report. This report will provide an important baseline for measuring the extent to which countries are reducing their reliance on Russia and requires updated information for the next 5 years on which countries are reducing their transactions with the Russian defense sector. Some of my colleagues have expressed concern that the conference report’s waiver for section 231 sanctions is delinked from CAATSA’s expedited review procedures. They are concerned that Congress may be giving up its ability to conduct oversight on administrative attempts to invoke waivers. First, let me try to clear up one thing. The authority under CAATSA, as enacted, for a broad national security waiver—subject to an expedited congressional review process—remains unchanged under the conference report and continues to apply to the vast majority of sanctions against Russia under CAATSA.
More importantly, we should keep in mind how the Department of Defense intends to use the limited waiver to section 231 provided in the NDAA. As Secretary Mattis wrote to Chairman McCain on July 24, the Department seeks a ‘‘limited exception’’ that would ‘‘allow the United States to sell military equipment and enable countries pulling away from the Russian orbit.’’ Secretary Mattis further noted that U.S. arms sales are subject to congressional notification in advance. In other words, Secretary Mattis is seeking to avoid the disruption to U.S. arms sales to key strategic partners that would result under section 231 sanctions and to prevent the negative impact such sanctions would have on our strategic relationships with these countries as they transition away from Russia. Even with the limited exception provided under this bill, Congress will still have significant oversight of any U.S. arms sales to countries being exempted from section 231 sanctions. Any sale of U.S. major defense equipment to these transitioning countries—like India, for example—will continue to be subject to congressional review under the well-established requirements of the Arms Export Control Act. That means that Congress typically will have at least 30 days, and often more, to review and approve any foreign military sale for major defense equipment to a country that has received the waiver to secondary sanctions under section 231. Large arms sales are likely to be subject to the FMS review process, but significant direct commercial sales must also be notified to the Foreign Relations Committee 30 days in advance of the export license being issued. The result is that Congress has the ability to conduct oversight of these transactions. Furthermore, under the Arms Export Control Act, Congress has procedures for pursuing a resolution of disapproval prohibiting or modifying the proposed arms sales. Congress’s oversight of any major U.S. arms sales that might flow from a waiver of secondary sanctions under section 231 provides us an additional ability to revise and supervise the administration’s implementation of this waiver authority. There are specific cases that one could talk about in terms of countries that we are actually trying to engage, such as India, Indonesia, and other countries, but I think what we have tried to do is to structure a very discrete and, in the terms the Secretary of Defense has used, very stringent conditions to the exercise of the sanctions.
Let me conclude by again thanking Senator Inhode, Chairman Thornberry, Ranking Member Smith, and all of the conferees for their bipartisanship throughout the process. This process has been collegial, and this is an example of a strong piece of legislation that addresses concerns of Members on both sides of the aisle. I would also like to thank the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee for all of their hard work on drafting a thoughtful and comprehensive bill. Their diligent work is a tribute to us all. I would be remiss if I didn’t single out these extraordinary individuals. I thank Senator McCain’s staff director, Chris Brose, who did a superb job; Senator Inhofe’s staff director, Luke Holland, Tony McLain; on my staff, Jody Bennett, Jon Clark, Gary Leeling, Creighton Greene, Jonathan Epstein, Ozge Guzelsu, Jon Green, Kirk McConnell, John Quirk, Arun Seraphin, Carolyn Chuhta, Maggie McNamara, Mike Noblet, Jorie Feldman, Bill Monahan, and my staff director, Elizabeth King. I also want to thank Jen Stewart and Paul Arcangeli. They are the staff directors for Chairman Thornberry and Ranking Member Smith, respectfully. They did a superb job. With their work and with the inspiration of Senator McCain, we were able to pass an extraordinary and I think very effective piece of legislation. I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.<