- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2019

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Sunday denounced as “dangerous” and “reckless” the latest effort by House Democrats to repeal the Sept. 11-related war authority that cleared the way for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and current operations against Islamic terrorism.

Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Features” program that while he is open to updating the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the move in the Democrats’ defense-spending bill “would illegalize all global counterterrorism operations in the world that we’re conducting we know ISIS is still a threat in Iraq.”

By a margin of 242-180, the House voted to include a measure in the annual defense-policy bill that would scrap the 2002 AUMF, which has been used by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump as the legal basis for missions and deployments around the world over the past 17 years.

The Republican-controlled Senate’s version of the underlying bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) does not contain a similar provision and the White House also is expected to oppose the amendment.

The House and Senate now face a difficult conference to resolve some stark differences in the two versions of the bill.

The Senate measure proposes a $750 billion budget for the Defense Department, in line with Mr. Trump’s request, but the House version is worth $733 billion and passed Friday after days of partisan skirmishes between Democrats who moved to restrict Mr. Trump’s military power and a Republican minority that pushed unsuccessfully for more money for the Pentagon.

After a last-ditch effort by Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, to boost the defense budget by an extra $7 billion failed, every Republican and eight Democrats voted against the FY20 defense policy bill.

The overall bill, which passed on a 220-197 margin, also prohibits using defense funds to use military force against Iran, reverses Mr. Trump’s ban on transgender troops, and issues a 3.1% pay increase for U.S. service members.

Among the House Democrats who opposed the defense authorization bill were progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Talib, Ilhan Omar, and Mark Pocan, the last of whom told The Washington Times ahead of the vote he planned to vote against it because he felt the topline number was too high.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said that the new Democratic majority had produced a better annual NDAA “because we don’t believe in sending a blank check to the Pentagon.”

“Accountability at the Pentagon matters,” the Washington Democrat said before the final votes.

After hours of voting, the House also shot down amendments that would have barred sending troops to the southern border, slashed the maintenance budget under the Overseas Contingency Operations funds by almost $17 billion, and allowed the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons on submarines.

One of the most contentious votes was on an amendment introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, that would prohibit using Pentagon funds for military action against Iran and block Mr. Trump from going to war with Iran without Congress’s approval.

The amendment passed by a 251-170 margin, largely along party lines, and received a ringing endorsement from Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer, who unsuccessfully fought to include a similar amendment in the Senate’s version of the bill.

“I applaud the House for adopting this important amendment that sends a clear message to President Trump, who was minutes away from bumbling into a war, that he does not have a blank check to pursue another endless war in the Middle East,” he said.

The New York Democrat vowed to fight to include the provision in the final version of the NDAA.

Republicans faulted the new House Democratic majority for pushing so many partisan amendments on a bill that traditionally receives large bipartisan support. The Senate NDAA bill, by contrast, recently passed on an overwhelming 86-8 vote.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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