Armed Services chair calls defense bill 'most progressive in the history of the country' after criticism

Armed Services chair calls defense bill 'most progressive in the history of the country' after criticism
© Greg Nash

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithGOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown MORE (D-Wash.) on Tuesday defended the compromise defense policy bill against criticism from progressives that Democrats gave up too much in negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.

“This is the most progressive defense bill in the history of the country, with Donald Trump as president and Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Democrats say Trump ceded right to block Bolton when he attacked him Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa MORE as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Smith said Tuesday in response to a question from The Hill. “I will rest on that sentence.”

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Smith was speaking at a news conference touting the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)’s inclusion of a new policy granting all federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

The House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday.

Aides have said Democrats secured the parental leave policy as part of a deal to agree to create President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet MORE’s long-sought Space Force.

Smith on Tuesday also pushed back on the idea that parental leave was secured with Space Force, saying “it’s a big overstatement to say one thing was traded for another.”

"That's simply not the way it works," he said. "There are 1,377 provisions in this bill. We attempted to strike a balance between the interests of everybody."

Top Democrats have been touting the parental leave policy as a major win in the final version of the NDAA that resulted from months of negotiations with the Senate and the White House.

But several other Democratic priorities that were in the version of the NDAA that passed the House in July were stripped from the final bill.

Among the language that was jettisoned from the compromise bill: blocking Trump from using Pentagon funding on his border wall, reversing Trump’s transgender military ban, blocking Trump from taking military action against Iran, ending all U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, more broadly regulating cancer-linked “forever chemicals” called PFAS, blocking the deployment of the low-yield nuclear warhead and banning new transfers to the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Progressives immediately balked at the compromise bill.

Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sanders says it's 'disappointing' he's not on campaign trail in Iowa Sanders announces Iowa campaign swing with AOC, Michael Moore MORE, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who voted against the original House version in July, said Monday night he would not support the compromise bill.

“At the same time that this administration has cut food stamps, Medicaid and reproductive health services from everyday Americans, this president wants to add more than a hundred billion dollars to continue endless and unauthorized wars, ban transgender troops, keep Guantanamo Bay open, allow the unchecked contamination of water supplies with polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and establish a Space Force—militarizing a previously shared space by all nations and created an unnecessary sixth branch of the military,” Pocan said in a statement. “This is the definition of government waste.”

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNew campaign ad goes after Sanders by mentioning heart attack Biden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Steyer rebukes Biden for arguing with supporter he thought was Sanders voter MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for president, and Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Defense: White House threatens to veto House Iran bills | Dems 'frustrated' after Iran briefing | Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision White House threatens veto of House Iran bills The DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo MORE (D-Calif.) released a joint statement calling on Congress to “vote against this disastrous Pentagon authorization – a bill of astonishing moral cowardice.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Khanna (D-Calif.), who sponsored the Iran and Yemen amendments and is the first vice chair of the Progressive Caucus, argued Democrats could have gotten more of their priorities in the final NDAA despite it needing to pass the Senate and be signed by Trump.

“This NDAA was outsourced to the White House,” Khanna said. “We should have really just kept pulling for our values and let him blink.”

Khanna also rejected the idea of voting for the bill because of its inclusion of parental leave. 

“What if we had the war in Iraq tied to, ‘Well, we’re going to give you three months of paid parental leave if you’ll vote to go to war in Iraq,’” he said. “This is a horrible precedent if we’re going to say to the party that we’re going to sacrifice questions of conscious on war and peace because we do this one domestic priority.”