WASHINGTON ― The Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote this week on several measures to limit the president’s power to wage war on Iran and aid the Saudi war in Yemen, after clearing a key procedural hurdle late Tuesday night.
The House Rules Committee, which screens amendments to the chamber’s legislation, met Tuesday night and approved 437 of more than 650 amendments submitted for consideration by Republicans and Democrats, covering a broad array of topics.
If voted into the House version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, the proposed limits on President Donald Trump would likely attract support for the massive defense policy bill from progressive Democrats otherwise repelled by plans to spend $733 billion on national defense. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., will need progressive votes as Republicans are not expected to favor the bill in large numbers.
But any provisions limiting the president would also likely be sticking points in future negotiations to finalize the bill, mainly between House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. The Senate passed its bill 86-8 last month.
A major amendment, prohibiting “unauthorized” military force in or against Iran, comes from Rep. Ro Khanna, first vice-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, known for his staunch support of the president on Fox News and on Twitter.
“Rep. Khanna believes progressives should, and is hopeful [they] will, ultimately support the NDAA,” Khanna’s communications director Heather Purcell said on Tuesday.
“Passing the Khanna-Gaetz bipartisan amendment, cosponsored by more than 70 members, to prevent funds for war with Iran is the only way to stop Trump from starting another bloody, endless war. If this House bill does not pass, we are stuck with the Inhofe NDAA which is much worse.”
The sponsors include Smith; House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.; Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Mark Pocan and Pramila Jayapal; freshman standout Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Democrats with national security experience like Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Max Rose.
Including its Republican co-sponsors Reps. David Schweikert, Ken Buck and Andy Biggs, Khanna’s camp expects around 15 Republicans to vote for the Iran amendment.
The bill comes as the Senate’s Republican majority defeated a war authorization measure last month, 50-40, meant to bar President Donald Trump from launching a military strike against Iran without Congress’s permission.
Overall, the massive policy bill is expected to face a spirited debate on the House floor and narrow vote to passage before the end of the week, following last month’s 21-hour markup in committee.
Reportedly, divisions within the Democratic party threaten the bill.
“I’m sure we’re going to hate the price tag. The question is what other wins might we be able to achieve,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., a member of the Progressive Caucus, told The Hill. “I’ve not voted for an NDAA in any year I’ve been in Congress. … I’m going to take a look and am considering it.”
The House NDAA reflects a $733 billion authorization for national defense, which is $17 billion less than what the administration wanted, what HASC Republicans wanted, and the top-line of the bill the GOP-controlled Senate passed last month. (The $725 billion House bill excludes $8.2 billion in Department of Energy programs outside HASC jurisdiction.)
The White House issued a veto threat Tuesday evening over the top-line and other issues.
HASC Republicans objected to the bill’s prohibition on the military deploying a new class of of low-yield submarine-launched nuclear warhead, restrictions on the president’s authority to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, as well as several provisions designed to check Trump’s ability to shift resources from the Defense Department to America’s border with Mexico.
House Republicans are expected to withhold support after all but two of HASC Republicans voted against passing the bill out of committee. That suggests Smith will rely upon progressives to advance the bill.
The HASC’s top Republican, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Tex., said in a statement that the bill missed the chance to “rebuild our military, reform its broken acquisition system, and meet our commitment to our men and women in uniform” and that it, “sadly takes our military backwards in several key areas.
“There were too many problematic provisions in the bill for most Republicans on the committee to overlook. I am hopeful that as the bill proceeds, it will improve and earn my support,” Thornberry said.
On Monday, Smith defended the bill against charges it was partisan, telling the House Rules Committee he had worked with Republicans to draft it.
“In the end we adopted 150 Republican amendments and 190 Democratic amendments,” Smith said. “I hate the implication that I’m not working in cooperation with everyone on the committee when I most certainly am.”
Checking Trump on Yemen is another hot topic.
After more than 50 Senators passed measures last month aimed at blocking White House plans for $8.1 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the House may use the NDAA to provide its own rebuke. Lawmakers have been displeased by Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to bypass Congress and make the sales.
The opposition is fueled by civilian casualties in the Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis in Yemen as well as the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Western intelligence agencies accuse the Saudi crown prince of ordering the killing of the journalist at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
The House Rules Committee advanced California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu’s amendment to bar funds to transfer any defense articles or services to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates under the emergency authority of the Arms Export Control Act that circumvents congressional review. Amash is a co-sponsor.
The panel also accepted an amendment limiting the president’s emergency export authority under the Arms Export Control Act, offered by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
Likewise, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski proposed one-year prohibition on the sale of air-to-ground munitions used in the conflict in Yemen to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He also sponsored an amendment that requires the U.S. intelligence community to make a determination of the parties responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
An amendment to bar support to and participation in coalition operations against the Houthis, by Khanna and House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is also set for a vote.
The panel accepted Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s amendment to bar funds from the Special Defense Acquisition Fund to aid Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates if such assistance could be used to conduct or continue hostilities in Yemen.
Beyond Yemen, Progressive Caucus’s co-chair emeritus, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., will see a vote on her amendment to repeal the 2002 military force authorization for Iraq, which is co-sponsored by Amash.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.