Following publication of this piece, a Senate spokesperson for Elizabeth Warren contacted In These Times with the following comment: “I just saw your piece on the NDAA. She does not support this level of defense funding and does not plan to vote in favor of the NDAA.”
Warren then tweeted the following remarks: “The Pentagon’s budget has been too large for too long. I cannot support a defense bill that’s a $738 billion Christmas present to giant defense contractors & undermines our values and security.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only 2020 presidential hopeful who has pledged to vote against — and loudly denounced — the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2020, a $738 billion military spending bill that would mark a $22 billion increase over last year. The other frontrunner in the Senate, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is tasked with negotiating the contents of the bill, but has so far remained silent on how she will vote. None of the other Democratic presidential candidates in Congress — Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — have indicated their voting intention, either.
The initial House version of the NDAA included certain restrictions on how military spending could be used, including measures prohibiting the allocation of funds to an unauthorized war with Iran and stopping U.S. military support for the war on Yemen. But a new compromise bill, released Monday, strips these out. While the compromise offers some concessions, such as paid parental leave for some federal workers, peace campaigners characterize it as a win for the Right. The House and Senate are expected to vote as soon as this week on the bill, which includes authorization for Trump’s proposed “space force” as part of the compromise.
Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, an antiwar organization, tells In These Times the bill is dangerous, failing to rein in the military in any meaningful way. “This NDAA does nothing to end our role in the horrific war in Yemen, doesn’t explicitly defund unauthorized war with Iran, doesn’t repeal the Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force, and among many other policies that ratchet up the new Cold War with Russia and China, doesn’t ban dangerous low-yield nukes that will contribute to a new arms race.”
Just Foreign Policy is part of a coalition of antiwar organizations that is contacting lawmakers in the House and Senate, asking them to vote no on the bill.
So far, few have publicly pledged to vote no on the legislation. On December 9, Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) released a statement rejecting the NDAA as a bill of “astonishing moral cowardice.” The statement declares, “Congress should have used this National Defense Authorization Act to stop our endless wars. Instead, this bill does nothing to rein in out-of-control military spending.”
“Every member of Congress should vote against this measure,” the statement continues. “There is no pressing reason for Congress to shower Trump, his Saudi friends, and the Pentagon contractors of the military-industrial complex with this $738-billion taxpayer giveaway right now.”
Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) have also pledged to vote against the bill, according to Sperling, who says Just Foreign Policy spoke directly to their staff.
Several of the presidential candidates, including Warren and Sanders, previously pushed for reforms to the NDAA that are not included in the latest version. But none except Sanders has publicly committed to voting no.
While peace campaigners contacted Warren’s office Tuesday asking her to reject the NDAA, the Massachusetts senator has not released a statement. She voted in favor of the NDAA for 2018, which gave Trump a bigger war budget than he had initially requested, but voted no to the NDAA for 2019. Sanders has rejected every NDAA under Trump.
Sperling said that even if Warren ends up voting against the bill, it’s important for politicians to come out early — and strongly — against the NDAA. “It’s not only important to vote the right way, but to come out with a strong statement and show leadership early. Members of Congress are looking for guidance from the major national political leaders, and sitting on the sideline can send the signal that defeating endless war is not a priority.”
Warren did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sarah Lazare is the editor of Workday Magazine and a contributing editor for In These Times. She tweets at @sarahlazare.