Invoking July 16 attack, GOP lawmakers slam Obama's veto of defense bill

U. S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., discusses his disappointment with the U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran.
U. S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., discusses his disappointment with the U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran.
photo Sen. Lamar Alexander speaks to reporters and editors at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in this file photo.
photo This image provided by CBS News shows Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., speaking with Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, in Washington.

NASHVILLE - U.S. Sens. Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., are blistering President Barack Obama's veto today of a $612 billion defense authorization bill, with the Republican senators pointing out it included a provision requiring a Pentagon response to the slayings of five U.S. servicemen during a July 16 shooting rampage.

Corker, who is from Chattanooga, said the "challenges our nation faces are vast, and I can think of no higher priority than ensuring our men and women in uniform have the tools necessary to protect and defend U.S. interests at home and abroad.

"Not only does this authorization bill allow us to continue important investments necessary for a strong national defense, including personnel benefits and equipment recapitalization, it puts in place an important process by which commanders on the ground in the U.S. are given the power to determine the best ways to protect those who serve here at home."

He said he is "extremely disappointed the president is blocking this important, bipartisan legislation."

"This bill impacts more than 40,000 people at Fort Campbell, the Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington and throughout Tennessee," Alexander said in a statement. "It not only would have increased pay for military personnel but it also would have allowed commanders to arm certain personnel on domestic military bases in response to the tragic shooting in Chattanooga in July that killed five service members."

Blackburn, meanwhile, charged Obama is "putting our national security at risk in the interest of leveraging his own political agenda" over the National Defense Authorization Act.

"My heart breaks for our men and women in uniform in harm's way, who will watch their commander-in-chief veto their pay and benefits because he wants more money for his domestic agenda," Blackburn said.

She said this year's defense bill passed the House and Senate "with an overwhelming bipartisan majority."

The bill, she said, "includes increased pay and benefits for our troops, safeguards our military personnel by allowing them to carry firearms on military bases and in recruitment facilities, improves access to child care on military installations, and provides our military with the resources needed to protect our country against the ever growing threat of terrorist groups such as ISIS."

In what is being characterized as an unusual public veto message, news organizations, including Military Times, reported Obama saying that as "president and commander in chief, my first and most important responsibility is keeping the American people safe. And that means that we make sure that our military is properly funded. Unfortunately, [this bill] falls woefully short in key areas."

The Military Times reported that the sticking point is the bill's inclusion of authorizing language for some $38 billion in additional overseas contingency funds. Republican lawmakers are using the temporary war accounts to get around mandatory defense spending caps for 2016, without lifting caps for non-defense accounts.

But the bill also includes language requiring the Secretary of Defense to establish and implement a process by which military commanders in the U.S. can authorize designated personnel to carry a firearm.

That's in response to the July 16 shooting rampage in Chattanooga. Kuwait-born Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, first opened fire on a U.S. military recruiting station on Lee Highway before proceeding to a U.S. Naval Reserve Training Center on Amnicola Highway where he killed four Marines and a Navy petty officer before dying in an exchange of fire with Chattanooga police.

The Chattanooga shootings sparked a national debate about why U.S. and state National Guard personnel could not go armed at installations on U.S. soil. There had been previous shootings in 2009 at the U.S. Army's Fort Hood base in Texas as well as outside a U.S. military recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark.

Defense News, meanwhile, reported the president's veto was an effort to pressure Republican lawmakers into a wider budget deal.

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