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Senators Rebuff Call to Open Defense Bill Markup

McCain, left, and Reed, right, support closing the markups. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Members of the Capitol Hill press corps are urging lawmakers to open defense authorization markups to the public, but the senators in charge of the markups are not budging.  

"We voted and that was the decision of the committee," Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday evening. "I asked the committee what their views were and they decided that's what they wanted." McCain was referring to an April 23 committee vote to close the National Defense Authorization Act full committee markups to the public, with McCain casting the final vote to keep deliberations closed. The vote continues past practices of keeping the markup behind closed doors , which former Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., started to address what he said was the hassle of switching in and out of classified session.  

But the press is pushing back, calling for open deliberations.  

"The process of making decisions should itself be visible to the American people in real time — as it is in most other corners of Congress," Kathleen Hunter of Bloomberg, the chairwoman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Senate Daily Press Gallery, wrote in a May 6 letter to McCain.  

The reporters were asking that the markup of non-classified material be open to the public, noting that a similar practice exists in the House.  

"The House Armed Services Committee openly marks up the companion to the Senate bill," wrote Hunter. "In that chamber, the process is smooth on the rare occasions when the committee does decide to close a markup to discuss classified data."  

On Monday, Armed Services ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., defended the Senate committee's decision.  

"I've always thought that we were more productive, but also that we could not worry as much about classified information because you're in a classified setting," Reed said. "In an open setting there's always the possibility that someone could inadvertently reference something that was a classified piece of information. Or you would have a discussion that could only be broached by talking about classified information and you would have to clear the room. It was very unyielding.  

"I'm certain the House is a great place, but it has its own rules. We have operated, I think, very successfully," Reed said when asked about the House opening up its markups. "All of the votes are published. There's no votes that aren't recorded and voted upon. It's a balance between being effective, but also ensuring that the public understands what our positions are on various issues."  

As the Armed Services subcommittees began their markups Monday, with the full committee expected to consider the NDAA later this week, it appears unlikely the full committee will allow the public or the media to monitor its markup, to the chagrin of reporters and lawmakers who called for more access.  

"I think it's great they sent it," Sen. Claire McCaskill said of the press gallery's letter. The Missouri Democrat is a proponent of opening up the markup. "I wish that more of my colleagues would see the value in us opening it," she said.  

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