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Inhofe, Frustrated by Defense Bill Amendments, May Favor Rules Changes

Comes amid standoff over the amendments on the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill

Sen. James M. Inhofe. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. James M. Inhofe. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Oklahoma Republican who has been filling in as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is talking about changing the rules ahead of next year’s edition of the annual exercise.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, the bill manager, is blasting the application of the Senate’s procedures allowing any one senator to effectively block the consideration of any other amendments.

Inhofe said the way forward “depends on one person, and that’s the junior senator from Kentucky. If he is going to do what he said he was going to do, and that is to object to any motion … on an amendment, then that means nothing else is going to happen.”

Of course that senator, Rand Paul, views the matter very differently.

“Basically, Lindsey Graham’s blocking all amendments at this point,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters. “If he would allow the amendment vote on not detaining any American citizen indefinitely, then everybody could have amendments. But basically, he’s destroyed the process.”

Paul noted that opponents were unable to muster the votes to table, and thus kill, an amendment similar to his own offered by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Paul noted that amendment actually had north of 60 supporters.

A total of 68 senators voted against a motion to table (and thus kill) the Lee amendment, leaving it still pending before the Senate Wednesday afternoon.

“We can actually overcome any barrier right now,“ Paul said. “We have the votes to pass the amendment.”

When asked what he intended to do next, Paul said he wanted to, “make sure everybody in America knows that [Graham] believes if you’re accused of a crime, that you don’t get a trial, and that he — the government should get to decide to call you an enemy combatant.”

Graham and Paul have sparred throughout the debate, and the South Carolina Republican told Roll Call on Tuesday that he had no intention of allowing votes on detention policy proposals favored by Paul’s side.

“The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the subject matter. We’re not going to give it up,” Graham said. “The reason the Judiciary Committee hasn’t brought up this idea is because I think it’s a pretty poor idea.”

Graham’s position has had the backing of Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

“If he wants to shut the whole defense bill down, he can,” Graham said of Paul.“Once you open this up, every non-germane amendment gets tacked on to the defense bill and you never get a defense bill.”

Speaking with reporters shortly before a failed bid to get an amendment agreement, Inhofe again decried the blockade. The Oklahoma Republican wanted to move forward with adoption of 10 amendments with bipartisan support, but Paul objected.

“There’s something wrong with the system that allows one individual to stop everybody from having amendments,” Inhofe said. “We want an open amendment process. I want it. Jack Reed wants it. McConnell wants it. Chuck Schumer wants it. Everybody wants it, but you can’t have it under our rules if one person objects.”

Inhofe said he might even propose a rules change for the fiscal 2020 defense bill.

“I’m thinking in those terms now,” he said. “I’ve already talked to some individuals about let’s do what’s necessary for next year to preclude this from happening again.”

“I think you you could do that, if you only have a requirement that they be germane,” Inhofe said.

The Senate has no general requirement for amendments on legislation to be germane before limiting debate through the cloture process, though there are different procedures for floor debate on spending bills like the package Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky plans to call up next week.

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