Durbin Urges Colleagues To Pass The Bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act

While many Durbin-led provisions are included, the Senator criticized repealing the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, restrictions on transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay, and lack of War Crimes bill

WASHINGTON  In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged his colleagues to pass the bipartisan James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23). The NDAA authorizes nearly $858 billion for the nation’s defense and includes a 4.6 percent pay raise for our troops – the largest increase in 20 years, to help military families amid higher living costs.  It also supports employment opportunities for military spouses, child care, and improved military housing; provides funds to ensure the U.S. can defend effectively against China and North Korea; and boosts military aid to Ukraine. During his speech, Durbin commented on the many provisions he championed in the bill that will help Illinoisans and are the priorities of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. 

“It includes several provisions I requested with Senator Duckworth – from protecting Scott Air Force Base in Illinois from divestment, to strengthening security cooperation with our Baltic Allies, to expanding federal mental health services after FEMA emergency declarations,” said Durbin. “I’m pleased that the bill includes bipartisan provisions from the Judiciary Committee to improve the security of federal judges and strengthen protections for sexual assault survivors.” 

Durbin also condemned several troubling provisions that made it into the comprise text. Currently, the bill would lift the Pentagon’s policy of requiring service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  

“Mandatory vaccinations for the U.S. military date back to our founding days, when George Washington ordered smallpox inoculations for troops in the Continental Army,” Durbin continued. “The Pentagon currently requires several vaccines for military members, and appropriate exemptions already exist for medical and religious purposes. So many troops serve around the world in extreme conditions and in close quarters for extended periods of time, making any risk of infectious diseases such as COVID all the more troubling.  And the lingering damage of long-COVID – including respiratory, heart, neurological, and autoimmune conditions – underscore the importance of our service members getting vaccinated… But the repeal of this mandate is a dangerous and disturbing politicization of an important public health and national security matter, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, whom I greatly respect, has made clear he opposes.”

Durbin also condemned a provision that extends for another year unnecessary restrictions on transferring detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, including a complete ban on transfers to the U.S. for any purpose.  Durbin filed an amendment to the Senate NDAA earlier this year to close the prison at Guantanamo, and unfortunately it was not taken up.

“I have long come to the floor to advocate for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay for years. It saddens me that formore than two decades, this detention facility was deliberately created to serve as a legal black hole, where detainees could be held incommunicado, beyond the reach of laws, and subjected to torture,” said Durbin. “Since the prison opened, hundreds of detainees have come and gone.  Today, only 35 remain at an unjustified and embarrassing cost of $550 million per year to keep the facility open.  The vast majority of the men who remain indefinitely detained have never been charged with any crime and have been unanimously approved for transfer by our defense and intelligence agencies.  Yet, they languish in Guantanamo for no justifiable reason and contrary to any due process or rule of law.” 

Another Durbin priority that was not included in the NDAA is his bipartisan Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, legislation that updates the current war crimes statute to enable prosecution of foreign war criminals in the United States regardless of the location or targets of their atrocities. As Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, Durbin has continuously urged his colleagues to pass this bipartisan, commonsense bill and is hopeful it will pass through the Omnibus. 

Durbin concluded, “We must ensure that foreign nationals here on our soil can be prosecuted for their war crimes.  America must send a message to the Putins of the world that their henchmen will find no safe haven here.” 

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.