- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2019

The leading House Democrat involved in ongoing negotiations for the 2020 defense policy bill insists that the impeachment inquiry into President Trump has not held up progress on the massive bill considered a top priority for the Pentagon.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith told reporters Wednesday that “the Republicans are using impeachment as an excuse not to do anything. It’s diabolical.”

The Washington state Democrat’s comments came amid the first public hearing into the impeachment hearing launched by House Democrats earlier this year.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said in a floor speech Thursday “we want to pass a conference report for the NDAA, critical legislation for our national defense … But now it’s another casualty of the impeachment obsession.”

“It’s telling that both [Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman] Jim Inhofe] and [Sen. Mitch McConnell] went to the floor to make this nakedly partisan argument amidst a negotiation,” Mr. Smith said. “They have to make it up because it’s not true.”

He explained that although “there are reasons why our negotiations might break down … Impeachment isn’t one of them. It’s got literally nothing to do with it.”

Last week, Mr. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said there has not been progress on negotiations “because [the Democrats are not here,” referring to a congressional delegation that visited Turkey and Iraq last week.

But Mr. Smith pushed back on Mr. Inhofe’s claim, saying that three of the first four NDAA negotiation meetings of the so-called ‘group of four’ were cancelled by the Republican side who “then came out and said they were upset about the slow pace of the negotiations.”

One big source of partisan division is how to fund construction of President Trump’s southern border wall.

“The White House wants $8.4 billion for the wall — $3.6 billion to backfill last year and then another $4.8 billion,” Mr. Smith said, but reiterated that the Democrats’ position on funding the wall is “zero.”

“So we’re at zero, they’re at 8.4, but that should be an appropriations fight. That should not be an authorizing fight because there is bipartisan opposition to taking money out of the department of defense and spending it on a wall,” he explained.

Mr. Smith said that despite significant differences between the Republican and Democratic leaders on each committee, he is “fairly determined to get it done,” and hinted at having a handful of backup plans to continue funding the military in the event that the standstill pours into next year.

As of Thursday, there are 14 legislative days left in this year where both the House and Senate will be active.

The NDAA has been passed prior to the start of the new year consistently for the past several decades. While Mr. Smith said this has been the “most difficult” round of negotiations, he believes the bill could cross the finish line in the coming weeks.

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