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House passes defense package, which Stefanik says includes ‘key wins’ for North Country

Rep. Elise Stefanik (Official congressional photo)

The House of Representatives passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said it includes some key wins for the North Country.

Stefanik said she was specifically proud of the naming of Fort Drum as the site for a potential missile defense underlayer, which she included in the bill during the House Armed Services Committee markup on July 1. She also said she’s proud to see that the recognition of the importance of the ReEnergy biomass power plant which powers Fort Drum, and the instruction that the Department of Defense should investigate the feasibility of using similar systems at other bases.

“I’ve asked many questions on the importance to the Army of energy resilience and energy security and the opportunities to use renewable sources like biomass, so that was a big win,” Stefanik said in an interview Wednesday.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly indicated he would veto the final version of the bill if it were to include language requiring DOD to rename bases that bear the name of Confederate figures.

Stefanik said that personally, she feels renaming bases should be left up to the military and members of the communities that surround them.

“That decision, I think, should be made in military leadership, and also get input from the local level,” she said.

Stefanik said that she is not worried about the fate of the NDAA.

“In terms of the veto threat, every NDAA process since I’ve been in office is different,” she said. “There are always different challenges, there have been veto threats issued before. I have confidence that ultimately we will have a strong NDAA negotiated in conference that will be signed into law.”

On Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the NDAA by a veto-proof majority, and the House version passed Tuesday by a similarly veto-proof margin. That both houses of Congress passed the NDAA by such a wide margin is not out of the ordinary, but does indicate that the president’s threat to veto has caused little concern for legislators.

Another issue of major concern in this year’s NDAA is the way the military handles sexual assault and sexual harassment within its ranks.

On July 19, two women married to soldiers stationed at Fort Drum led a march in Evans Mills, to call for justice for Vanessa Guillen, a female soldier killed at Fort Hood, Texas. Spc. Guillen was killed on April 22, and authorities believe she was killed inside the armory where she worked by another soldier. In the subsequent investigation, it was discovered that Guillen had told her family about being sexually harassed by a sergeant at Fort Hood, and that other female soldiers had had their complaints against the sergeant dismissed.

Stefanik said she’s worked over the years to strengthen policies on eradicating sexual assault and harassment within the military.

“At Fort Drum they have a very effective SHARP program specifically focused on making sure that education and awareness is at the most junior level and in the unit level,” she said.

She also said that, in May 2019, she joined with Reps. Mike Turner and Danny Davis on the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, which would mandate prevention and training programs on sexual assault in the armed forces and service academies, improve the investigation process for victims and include punitive measures in the code of military justice to punish those who perpetuate harassment. That act has sat with no action in the Subcommittee on Military Personnel since May 24, 2019.

As the House debated the bill Tuesday, a number of amendments were proposed, mostly by House Democrats. Stefanik voted “no” on a number of them.

Stefanik voted against an amendment proposed by Rep. Veronica Escobar, of Texas, which would require the president and the secretary of defense to prove to Congress that a state is unable or unwilling to suppress an “unlawful obstruction, combination, or assemblage, or rebellion against the authority of the United States,” before sending federal armed forces into the state. The amendment passed in a largely party-line vote.

Stefanik also voted against an amendment that would prevent the use of any funds allocated to defense to be used for the construction of nuclear weapons. This amendment was also passed along party lines. She also voted against an amendment proposed by Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, that would’ve established policy framework to accelerate the removal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a proposal which failed.

“Certainly I took ‘no’ votes on a number of those amendments, some of the amendments that are far-left amendments that, frankly, that were a part of the Democratic leadership negotiation,” Stefanik said. “They had to grant those members the opportunity to pass those amendments.”

Stefanik said she worked with Rep. Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat, on an amendment that would require the White House and the National Security Council to establish a “senior-level official responsible for cybersecurity.” Stefanik said there had previously been a position that oversaw cybersecurity on the NSC, but former national security advisor John Bolton eliminated it during his tenure.

The House and Senate must now meet in conference to address the differences in their versions of the NDAA, before it will be sent to the president’s desk. Stefanik will serve on that conference committee.

The Senate and House versions both include a provision to raise soldier’s pay by 3%, as well as measures that would make more funding available for students who attend schools in the communities surrounding the bases where they live. That both versions of the bill contain these measures ensures that the provisions will be in the final negotiated version.

“Big bipartisan win, I look forward to serving on the conference committee, but this is just another example of the very specific results that I’ve been able to deliver to the broader Fort Drum community,” Stefanik said.

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