WASHINGTON — House Appropriations Committee Democrats on Wednesday took aim at several national security policy issues, but each time, panel Republicans turned them back.
Democratic members offered amendments to the panel’s 2014 Pentagon appropriations bill that would have altered the law used by two presidents to justify a score of post-9/11 US military actions and transferred the CIA’s armed drone program to the Defense Department.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., sought to insert a provision that called for the expiration of the post-9/11 authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) resolution. Lee’s amendment proposed sun-setting that measure at the end of the Afghanistan war or on Jan. 1, 2015 — whichever comes first.
Driven largely by concerns about the legality of the Obama administration’s drone-strike program, lawmakers from both parties and experts in recent months have suggested re-writing the 2001 resolution. They say a new resolution should be crafted to reflect the changed nature of al-Qaida and the American fight against it.
“I remember that night,” Lee said of the Sept. 14, 2001, vote — just three days after the attacks on New York and Washington. “We only had one hour of debate.”
Lee added she had too many concerns about the broad nature of how that resolution was written, which she says have come true because Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have used the resolution to conduct 23 different American military missions.
That shows, she said, that the resolution is “overly broad” and allows the executive branch to “wage war at any time, at any place.”
“No future president should wage this war with no oversight,” Lee told her panel mates.
She and other Democratic members countered their Republican cohorts’ claims that keeping the existing resolution is necessary because al-Qaida remains a threat by saying Congress should craft an updated measure.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and make some determination on what to do next,” Lee said.
Republicans defeated the Lee amendment, but HAC Defense subcommittee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., did say he agrees with Lee that American forces “should have been out of Afghanistan yesterday.”
Young said Congress should have a debate about replacing the 2001 resolution with a new measure, but in a different manner.
Minutes later, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., introduced an amendment that would have substantially altered the Obama administration’s drone program.
“None of the funds made available by this act may be used for weapons strikes or lethal action using an unmanned aerial vehicle unless conducted by a member of the armed forces,” states the amendment.
McCollum told committee members that the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has been conducting its own armed drone strikes for years and is well-suited to simply take over the CIA program.
Moving the entire program under the military would remove what she sees as the CIA’s “lack of accountability, transparency and oversight.”
The change would resolve outstanding “legal questions, human rights [questions], foreign policy [issues] and moral questions,” McCollum said, though she acknowledged the CIA program has “killed terrorists.”
Unless Washington deals with such issues, nations like Russia, China and Iran also will ignore them if they develop combat drones, she claimed.
Young raised concerns, saying the amendment “sets up some real constitutional issues,” adding “this committee has never really instructed [any] president on how he should conduct a war or use a specific weapon system.”
Notably, Young announced the Pentagon and Obama administration oppose McCollum’s proposed shift of the entire armed drone program from the CIA to the military.
An animated McCollum responded by declaring she is not surprised that the White House wants to maintain its “assassination program” and slammed Congress for “not weighing in.”
After the somewhat tense debate, McCollum’s amendment was defeated with all Republicans and some Democrats voting against it in a voice vote.
Still, Young’s revelation about the Obama administration’s opposition offered answers to questions among national security experts and lawmakers about the status of the armed drone program.
Obama and senior White House officials late last month seemed to hint much of the program would indeed be conducted by the military. But experts said Obama and his aides left wiggle room in their statements signaling the spy agency would retain some aspects of the targeted-killing program. Young’s comment indicates that is the case.