Lawmakers debate missile shield, clash over 'hot mic' moment

The House Armed Services Committee clashed Wednesday over President Obama’s “hot-mic” moment during a debate over spending $100 million to develop an East Coast missile interceptor site.

The Committee is expected to vote down an amendment to strip the $100 million from the Defense authorization bill, which is currently being marked up by the panel in a marathon Wednesday session.

Strategic Forces Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who included the missile site in his subcommittee mark, said that the site was necessary to prevent emerging threats from Iran and North Korea, as he attacked the president as having a “secret plan” with the Russians.

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“We don’t think we should be guided by the president’s secret plan with the Russians to diminish our missile defense,” Turner said during Wednesday’s debate.

“We all know from the open mic episode, he has a secret deal with the Russians, and perhaps there might be members of this committee who want to support greater flexibility,” he said. “Most of us on this committee believe we should not be responding to secret deals with the Russians.”

Republicans hammered Obama for his comments to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in March, when he said on a hot microphone that he needed “more flexibility” on missile defense until after the election.

Democrats shot back that the attacks Wednesday — and the East Coast missile site — were nothing more than election year politics. Ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said that turning what he called a benign comment into an “incontrovertible” detailed plan was "political nonsense.”

“For this committee to suggest a secret deal is completely wrong and simply not helpful to this process,” Smith said.

The campaign season fireworks were intermingled with debate over the East Coast missile system, which Democrats said was unnecessary and a waste of limited defense dollars.

They argued the threat from countries like Iran and North Korea had not yet materialized, and that the Pentagon should be focusing its dollars on making the current system in California and Alaska work properly.

Strategic Forces ranking member Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) talked about testimony from Gen. Charles Jacoby, U.S. Northern Command commander, who said in congressional testimony that today’s threats do not need an East Coast system.

But Turner argued that Jacoby was only referring to today’s threats, and that Iran and North Korea are still pursuing the technology.

He also took issue with arguments that the current system didn’t work, saying that classified information painted a different picture.

“I don’t think anybody wants to gamble with U.S. security by saying our adversaries — who have clearly stated their intentions of having ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] technology for purposes of reaching the U.S. — are going to be so slow that we can wait,” Turner said.

The language in the Defense authorization bill would authorize $100 million to begin preparations for an East Coast missile site to be operational by 2015. The language gives the Pentagon flexibility over what type of land-based system is established and where it’s located.

The amendment to strike the amendment failed on a voice vote, and the roll call vote that will take place later Wednesday is also expected to fail along party lines.