WASHINGTON — More littoral combat ships, stiff election security measures and a means to undo U.S. tariffs are just a few ideas proposed as amendments to the annual defense policy bill, which is set for floor consideration Monday.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s No. 2 Republican, told reporters last week that he expects at least a manager’s package of a dozen amendments to come to the floor.
But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., could derail floor consideration of amendments, using the chamber’s procedural rules, if he does not receive a vote he wants. Last week, Paul delayed the bill’s arrival on the floor because his amendment to bar indefinite detention of American citizens was being blocked.
“I think that’s such an important concept — a bedrock principle of our country that I’ve been trying for six years to get this vote,” Paul said last week.
He said the amendment has been blocked by one senator.
“If one person doesn’t get [a vote for their amendment], they get to say, ‘If I don’t get mine, you don’t get yours,’” Paul said. “It cascades and ruins the whole system.”
Tariffs. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., sponsored an amendment that would give Congress new authority to check the president’s steel and aluminum tariffs. When the president invokes national security to levy a tariff, he would first need Congress’s approval.
The amendment’s path is uncertain, as the upper chamber’s Republican leadership have sought to scuttle what could turn into a party-splitting vote that rebukes the president. Instead, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he wants Corker’s legislation to first clear the Senate Finance Committee.
“There is concern, and I share that concern about using national security as a pretext for trade wars,” Cornyn told reporters last week. “I just don’t think this is the time or bill to get into that.”
Chinese telecom. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is cosponsoring an amendment, with Van Hollen and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., would restore sanctions against Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE that the administration eased last week. ZTE had been blocked from accessing U.S. technology over export control violations, and lawmakers are concerned the firm — which is linked to China’s government — could provide a backdoor into American tech.
Littoral combat ship. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., sponsored an amendment that would add $950 million for another littoral combat ship. The bill matches the Navy’s request for one LCS — as committee staffers have said the aim is to complete the planned by and move on to the FFG(X) frigate — but the House NDAA and draft defense appropriations bill include three of the LCS.
Election security. Sens. Jim Lankford, R-Okla., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., sponsored an amendment to strengthen America’s election cybersecurity and protect against the possibility of future foreign interference by streamlining cybersecurity information-sharing between federal intelligence entities and state election agencies and providing security clearances to state election officials.
Sens. Chris Val Hollen, D-Md., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sponsored an amendment to deter foreign interference in U.S. elections, specifically targeting Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. It would mandate a set of severe sanctions if the director of national intelligence determines the Kremlin has again interfered in a U.S. federal election: The administration would be required to swiftly impose sanctions on major sectors of the Russian economy, including finance, energy, defense, metals and mining—and block the assets of senior Russian political figure and oligarchs.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.