Republicans push East Coast missile site

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee moved Wednesday to build a new missile defense site on the East Coast by 2018.

The committee passed an amendment to the Defense authorization bill on a 33-27 vote to direct $140 million toward a third missile interceptor site on the East Coast.

The potential East Coast site generated heated debate in the Armed Services panel that was divided on party lines.

Republicans said that the site was an important way to defend against future ballistic missile threats to the East Coast from countries like Iran.

“It is imperative that we move quickly to ensure that our missile-defense system is expanded and it is completed,” said Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who introduced the amendment on the East Coast site.

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But Democrats argued that the missile technology is not yet proven, and that it’s too soon to build another site in addition to the current ground-based interceptors deployed in California and Alaska.

“This is too much money, too early to be helpful to the security of the American people,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Strategic Forces subcommittee.

The East Coast missile site is the biggest fight on missile defense this year for the panel, an issue that always raises partisan tensions.

The debate quickly turned to the alleged “secret deal” that Turner accused President Obama of making with the Russians last year over his open mic comment where he said he’d have more “flexibility” after the election.

Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-Calif.) quickly countered by stating there was no secret deal, and she rebuffed Turner's request that she yield so he could respond.

The political back and forth was intertwined with competing claims about the capabilities of the ground-based interceptors that would be deployed at a new East Coast site.

Turner and other Republicans on the panel took issue with the Democratic claims that the technology did not work yet. They also warned that waiting until Iran had developed its long-range missile technology would be too late because building the East Coast interceptor site would take several years.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) also proposed an amendment that ultimately failed to take the $140 million for the East Coast site and instead direct it to equipment for the National Guard and reserves.

Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) called it a “stunt,” and quickly was able to cut off debate.

“My mark already covers $400 million in the National Guard,” McKeon said. “This amendment is unnecessary, and I oppose it.”

--This report was originally published at 8:07 p.m. and last updated at 9:52 p.m.