Deleted war-mak­ing de­bate irks U.S. law­maker

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - RICHARD LARD­NER

WASH­ING­TON — A House Demo­crat on Wednes­day ac­cused Re­pub­li­can lead­ers of un­der­handed tac­tics af­ter a GOP-con­trolled panel stripped from a mil­i­tary spend­ing bill her amend­ment to force a de­bate to give the pres­i­dent new au­thor­ity for mil­i­tary ac­tion against ter­ror­ist groups.

Rep. Bar­bara Lee of Cal­i­for­nia blamed Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for act­ing like an “au­to­crat” and ab­di­cat­ing Congress’ con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­cide whether to send Amer­i­can fight­ing forces into harm’s way.

“Congress has been miss­ing in ac­tion on mat­ters of war and peace for nearly 16 years,” Lee said in a state­ment. “Speaker Ryan should ex­plain why he is un­der­min­ing the demo­cratic process and act­ing in such an au­to­cratic man­ner. What is he afraid of?”

Ash­Lee Strong, a spokesman for Ryan, called Lee’s amend­ment “an ir­re­spon­si­ble mea­sure that would have would have left ser­vice mem­bers in the field with­out an au­tho­riza­tion to de­feat al-Qaida and [the Is­lamic State] and could have led to the re­lease of the pris­on­ers at Guan­tanamo.”

To fight the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion be­fore it, re­lies on the 2001 con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tions. The White House’s use of a con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tion from a decade and a half ago is a le­gal stretch at best, ac­cord­ing to Lee and other crit­ics.

Lee, an anti-war law­maker and the only mem­ber of Congress to op­pose the post-Sept. 11, 2001, au­tho­riza­tion, has long ar­gued that Congress needs to ex­er­cise its con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity and pro­vide up­dated au­thor­ity to re­flect how the dy­nam­ics of the bat­tle­field have shifted.

She and other law­mak­ers have de­scribed the ex­ist­ing au­tho­riza­tion for the use of mil­i­tary force as a “blank check” that was ap­proved be­fore the Is­lamic State ex­isted.

For ex­am­ple, the 2001 au­tho­riza­tion didn’t an­tic­i­pate U.S. mil­i­tary con­fronta­tions with Syria. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in April or­dered the fir­ing of dozens of Tom­a­hawk mis­siles at an air base in cen­tral Syria and Amer­i­can forces last month shot down a Syr­ian air force fighter jet.

Lee’s amend­ment to the spend­ing bill won bi­par­ti­san back­ing last month from Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee mem­bers. Her mea­sure would have re­pealed the 2001 war au­tho­riza­tion 240 days af­ter the spend­ing bill is en­acted. She ar­gued that eight months is enough time for Congress to ap­prove new war au­thor­ity.

The House Rules Com­mit­tee, which read­ies leg­is­la­tion for con­sid­er­a­tion on the floor of the House af­ter it clears the com­mit­tees, used a pro­ce­dural loop­hole to strike Lee’s amend­ment from the de­fense bill late Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to her of­fice. That pre­vents the full House from vot­ing on the mea­sure.

Among the Repub­li­cans to back Lee’s amend­ment were Reps. Tom Cole of Ok­la­homa and Chris Ste­wart of Utah, who both said Congress had put off the de­bate for too long.

But Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the chair­man of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions de­fense sub­com­mit­tee, ob­jected to Lee’s amend­ment. She said it would tie the hands of the U.S. to act on its own or with other coun­tries to at­tack and de­feat ter­ror­ist groups. She also said Lee’s pro­vi­sion would make a ma­jor pol­icy change and didn’t be­long in leg­is­la­tion de­signed to fund the armed forces.

The Rules Com­mit­tee then re­placed Lee’s mea­sure with a less force­ful amend­ment crafted by Cole. His amend­ment re­quires the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to sub­mit a re­port to Congress that out­lines a strat­egy for de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State mil­i­tants and other ter­ror groups and the au­tho­riza­tion they need from Capi­tol Hill to ac­com­plish those goals.

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