Pelosi Floor Speech in Support of National Defense Authorization Act

December 8, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.  I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I thank him and Mr. Thornberry for their leadership in bringing this legislation to the Floor in a strong bipartisan way. 

I am proud to support the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that honors our values, strengthens our security and advances our leadership in the world.  I again salute Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry, and congratulate him for his service in the Congress.  I know this legislation is named for you, so that's pretty exciting for all of us.  I don't know if it is for you, but it's exciting for the rest of us.

And I thank the Members of the Committee for their patriotic persistence, leadership on this legislation – reflects the brilliance and collaboration we can have.  Nearly half the Members contributed to parts of this bill.  While we would have liked to have seen the House version of this legislation, we can all take pride that the NDAA, again, will strengthen our national security for years to come. 

I am particularly pleased with some of the issues in the bill that are supportive of our troops.  The NDAA – this NDAA, Mr. Speaker, incorporates key Democratic priorities, including supporting our troops and financial security: authorizing a long overdue pay raise and hazard duty pay, extending paid parental leave to civilian employees who had not been included and provided long-overdue benefits to Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange.  This issue has been an issue for a long time in our country, and also in this Congress, and it needed some expansion.  And I'm glad that in this legislation, the exposure extends to hyperthyroidism, bladder cancer, Parkinson's – under the, ‘if you're there and you have this, it's connected.’

I am personally interested in this because many years ago, before I was in Congress, in our community in California, we had a big – in LA actually – a big hunger strike by the Vietnam vets over Agent Orange.  This was like 35 years ago, before – long before Congress acted on this.  And they were on a hunger strike and I went to be sympathetic and show support.  I was chair of the California Democratic Party at the time.  And Dick Gregory came, and Dick Gregory had been on many hunger strikes for one thing or another, civil rights, this and that and he taught them, if you're on a hunger strike, you must shower, you must hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, but telling them how not to make themselves sick because they were on a hunger strike, but to control that damage.  

I was particularly pleased to be there with Dick Gregory, because my brother and he served in the Army in Texas together.  And in those days, that was in the 50's, long time ago, my brother was Dick Gregory's friend in a time when there wasn't so much, shall we say, integration among the troops, so we had that personal connection.  

And then once again, with our Vietnam vet-era, vet-era vets, when it came to Agent Orange.  So, I commend you all personally, patriotically and in every way for taking care of our vets there. 

And then the families, defending the health and well-being of that of their families, improving housing and access to child care, improving pandemic response, protecting military communities from dangerous PFAS chemicals and addressing sexual assault in the military.  Thank you for that.  Jackie Speier has been such a champion on that issue. 

Combating our adversaries and investing in our allies, with important new tools to deter China and Russia, fight transnational threats, and further strengthening our partnership with Israel, bringing our defense further into the 21st Century with reforms to make the Pentagon more efficient and innovative, important bipartisan provisions on Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity and key investments in military construction and base realignment. 

This NDAA is momentous in this respect, as Congress comes together on a bipartisan, bicameral basis, to begin the process of changing the names of military bases and infrastructure named after individuals who served in the confederacy. 

Mr. Speaker, it's important to know, this isn't names of things that, ‘Oh, my gosh, later we found out that so and so did this and that, that that was so wrong.’  This was a decision made to name these bases after people, white supremacists and those who were part of the Confederacy.  The men for whom these bases were named are not heroes.  They are named for traitors who took up arms against America and killed American soldiers in defense of slavery. 

As I said before, there's no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of men of the Confederacy in anyplace of honor across our country, whether in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or on our military bases.  Changing the hateful names of these bases is supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people, by our active duty service men and women and by top military leaders.  And now the President has threatened to veto this legislation.  I hope not.  I hope not. 

This bipartisan policy bill has been signed into law for 59 consecutive years.  Let us urge the President to show respect for the work of the bicameral, bipartisan Congress and for the sacrifice of our military.  I urge a strong bipartisan vote for this legislation, which upholds our values, honors our troops and keeps the American people safe.  And I hope that it will be swiftly signed into law. 

And just want to make the further point that the strength of our nation, of course, depends on our strength that we're talking about here, but it also depends on the health and well-being of the American people.  So, as we have our budget debate and the rest, let us recognize that the health and well-being of the American people, whether it's the education of our children, the security of our economy and the rest and so many other aspects of our budgeting here, that this is one element of the strength of our country. 

With that, I urge a yes vote, congratulate Mr. Thornberry for his namesake bill, acknowledge the great leadership of our Chair Adam Smith and I also want to acknowledge Anthony Brown who did such a tremendous piece of work on the base renamings.

And with that, I yield back the balance of my time.  Thank you.