In Rare Public Appearance, Joint Chiefs Rally To Try To Block Leahy’s Bill To Elevate The National Guard To Their Ranks

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Nov. 10) – In a rare joint public appearance, the current members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff banded together Thursday to testify against adding the National Guard to their ranks, which would happen under legislation introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

At issue is the latest National Guard Empowerment Bill (S.1025), introduced by Leahy, longtime co-chair of the Senate’s 84-member National Guard Caucus, and joined by Caucus co-chair Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).  The Leahy-Graham bill would elevate the head of the National Guard Bureau to the Joint Chiefs.  It is the latest in a series of successful efforts led by Leahy over the last six years to give the Guard a more meaningful seat in Pentagon circles where key policy and budget decisions are made that affect the Guard. 

The service chiefs testified at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  As widely expected, all argued against the change.  Several senators on the panel spoke in strong support of the Leahy-Graham bill, and Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), while still uncommitted, acknowledged that debate on the issue likely will move next to the Senate Floor.

It has been two years since all the members of the Joint Chiefs have testified together on Capitol Hill.

“Today’s National Guard is a 21st Century military organization, stuck in a 20th Century Pentagon bureaucracy,” says Leahy.

The hearing was convened because of the growing expectation that Leahy and Graham will bring the issue to the Senate floor in the weeks ahead, as an amendment to the annual Defense Authorization Bill.  Before the hearing the Leahy-Graham bill boasted 66 Senate cosponsors.  The number rose to 67 by the end of Thursday, with the addition of Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.).  

After the hearing Leahy said he is more optimistic than ever about his empowerment reforms:  “I thank Chairman Levin for scheduling this hearing to let the Senate to hear from our military leaders on this vital important matter.  After today’s hearing I am hopeful that we will add even more momentum.   Having heard the views of the Joint Chiefs and General McKinley, I am more resolved than ever that the National Guard needs an official voice and a vote in national security decision making.  While I have the deepest and sincerest respect for the Joint Chiefs and trust their judgment on many matters, as a body they have historically resisted other important and needed institutional changes, notably adding the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Joint Chiefs in 1978, and the Goldwater-Nichols reorganization effort in the mid-1980s.  Inertia unfortunately still sometimes prevails in the top ranks.  Like those earlier reforms, this is a correction the Senate must make in the best interests of our national security, even if it has to be done over the objections of some of our foremost military leaders.  I commend Senator Graham for his cogent and articulate explanation of the facts during today’s hearing.  He clearly and respectfully laid out the strong case for empowering the National Guard, and I am proud to have him as a partner in this effort.”

[Below is a link to the 74-page briefing book for Senate Armed Services Committee members, produced by the Senate National Guard Caucus, which is co-chaired by Senator Leahy and Senator Graham:]

Click here to view the briefing book.

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