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Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On The Senate Beginning Floor Consideration Of The National Defense Authorization Act

Washington, D.C.Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Senate moving forward with the National Defense Authorization Act. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Later today, the Senate will take the first procedural step to begin consideration of our annual defense bill.

For more than six decades, Democrats and Republicans have worked in good faith to pass the NDAA. This year’s defense authorization bill is a prime example of how Senate Democrats and Republicans can work constructively to provide for our nation’s defense, take care of our service members and DOD civilians, and make the investments necessary to innovate and build up our military and intelligence capabilities.

I hope we can have an open and constructive amendment process for the NDAA, without needless delay or dilatory tactics. I certainly hope we do not see the kind of controversy that severely hindered the NDAA process over in the House. Both sides should defeat potentially toxic amendments and refrain from delaying the NDAA’s passage.

So far, we have thankfully avoided all that. Over the weekend, nearly all the committees across the Senate worked round the clock on a substitute, with a manager’s package that has 51 amendments, 21 from Republicans, 21 from Democrats, and 9 bipartisan. We’ve had many great amendments – this is a good start and we are working towards a second manager’s package with even more priorities for Democrats and Republicans. 

I want to thank Chairman Reed, Ranking Member Wicker, all the other Chairs and Rankers, and all my colleagues and the staff who worked long and hard over the weekend, for their good work on this bill.

Now, there are a few items that are in the bill that deserve some attention. I want to highlight a few of the items added to the manager’s package that are very important and bode well for our country’s future, particularly on AI, on outcompeting the Chinese government, and tackling our nation’s fentanyl crisis.

First, I’m pleased the manager’s package includes an amendment I worked on with Senators Rounds, Young, and Heinrich that takes some early, initial steps on AI legislation, the first steps this body is taking in a while.

The Senate has already done important preliminary work to bring ourselves up to speed on this issue, but the NDAA will be the Senate’s first opportunity this year to pass real AI legislation.

My AI amendment includes provisions that will boost AI oversight within the national security space, including an increase in data sharing within the DOD, new risk studies to examine explainability and similar issues, and provide for “bug bounty programs” that will help sniff out vulnerability in AI systems used by the DOD.

This year, our first manager’s package also makes a critical down payment on the Senate’s efforts to outcompete the Chinese government.

We have over a dozen amendments related to our ongoing competition with the Chinese government, including measures that make progress on the AUKUS defense cooperation agreement between the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. Senator Menendez and I wanted more, but we have a good compromise in the bill and I hope we can add more in the amendment process.

We have provisions to strengthen our partnership with Taiwan, boost the development of quantum information technologies, strengthen the U.S.’s position in the Indo-Pacific region, to name a few. As you know, we are working on a bipartisan China competition package that will deal with the excesses and wrongs of the Chinese government, but this in the DOD bill is a good first start.

And I also want to praise my colleagues, Tim Scott and Sherrod Brown, for their work to combat our nation’s fentanyl crisis. This is one of the most devastating health crises happening in our country; in 2021, the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency, seized enough fentanyl to give every single American a lethal dose. Every single American.

A lot of blame for this crisis lies at the feet of the chemical suppliers located in China that operate with little or no accountability, which represent the bedrock of the international fentanyl supply chain. I felt this is very important that we do more to stop the scourge of fentanyl from coming into our country and so I pushed very hard to get this amendment in the manager’s package and I’m glad it was.

Championed, as I said, in the Banking Committee by Chairman Brown and Ranking Member Scott, it declares the international trafficking of fentanyl a national emergency and adds teeth and potential sanctions to the administration’s ability to hold wrongdoers accountable. The ability to declare this a national emergency gives the President broader powers and allows him to do more to stop the flow of these precursor chemicals coming from China and other countries.

The bill was passed unanimously, I’m proud to say, by the Banking Committee – another great example of regular order here in the Senate. 

Finally, I’m pleased the NDAA will include my amendment on increasing transparency on UAPs, or Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena.

UAPs generate a lot of curiosity for many Americans, and with that curiosity sometimes comes misinformation. So my amendment will require the National Archives and Records Administration to create a collection of records from across government agencies that can be declassified for the public’s use, similar to the approach used in 1992 with the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act.

These records will carry a presumption of immediate disclosure, which means they can only remain classified with good reason.

I thank my colleagues who worked with me on this legislation, Senator Rounds, Rubio, Heinrich, Gillibrand, and Young for their partnership on this amendment. As many know, my mentor and dear friend who I miss so much, Harry Reid, was passionate about this issue. And so were Senators Stevens and Inouye. So I am glad we could get this into the manager’s amendment.

For these and many other reasons, I look forward to beginning floor consideration of the NDAA bill today. The four things I’ve mentioned, dealing with fentanyl, dealing with competition with China, dealing with AI, and with making public the UAP phenomena and what we know about them in an unclassified way, are all important additions to the defense bill and I’m glad we added them in. I thank both sides for their good work, and I hope we can pass this important bill without needless delay or controversy.