Politico

Lawmakers aim for blockbuster overhaul of war powers, arms sales


A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing to expand their role in national security matters, injecting heightened congressional scrutiny of the use of military force, arms sales and national emergency declarations.

Legislation spearheaded by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), set to be introduced on Thursday, aims to shift the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch on foreign policy. The measure, dubbed the National Security Reforms and Accountability Act, marks one of the most expansive efforts yet to rein in presidential war powers that have gone largely unchecked for decades.

“Clearly, this is not the system of checks and balance our constitution envisions. Congress is the branch of government closest to the people and it is our duty to make tough decisions about when, where, and how to put American troops in harm’s way,” McGovern said in a statement. “We need to come together in a bipartisan way to reclaim our rightful role as a co-equal branch of government before it’s too late.”

“Congress must reassert its role in national security decisions, especially those that impact our servicemembers,” Meijer added. “The National Security Reforms and Accountability Act will put Congress back in the driver’s seat so we can deliver on our duty to the American people as it is laid out by the Constitution.”

The pair is joined by Democrats Barbara Lee of California, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Ted Lieu of California and Republican Nancy Mace of South Carolina.

The bill was viewed by POLITICO ahead of its release Thursday.

It’s unclear if the measure will come up for debate and a vote, but the bipartisan group is indicative of mounting support on Capitol Hill to reclaim congressional prerogatives on waging war and reel in the commander in chief’s authorities that have grown substantially in the two decades since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. McGovern, meanwhile, chairs the Rules Committee, which vets legislation before it heads to the House floor.

The legislation mirrors a similar bipartisan war powers bill that was introduced in the Senate in July by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

McGovern and Meijer’s bill aims to require congressional input at the outset of major military hostilities, arms deals or national emergency declarations — all instances in which Congress now effectively needs a veto-proof majority to override the president.

The legislation would overhaul the nearly five-decade-old War Powers Act, which presidents of both parties have long skirted, cutting off funding for military operations that aren’t authorized by Congress. It would narrow the window for military action the executive branch can take before requiring congressional approval from 60 to 20 days.

The bill also imposes a two-year limit on future war authorizations and requires those authorizations to specify objectives, groups being targeted and countries in which military force is used. Congress would need to approve a separate authorization to expand those objectives, targeted groups or countries.

Certain foreign military sales or direct commercial sales of weapons would require congressional signoff. The bill requires lawmakers to approve sales of air-to-ground munitions, tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters, drones and certain training and services valued at $14 million or more. Sales of firearms and ammunition totaling $1 million or more also would require approval.

It also would target long-running national emergency declarations that unlock additional executive powers by requiring Congress to approve them within 30 days of the president’s declaration. Congress can currently nix presidential emergency declarations, but essentially needs a veto-proof majority to do so. The bill also would impose a five-year limit on national emergencies.

The effort also comes as Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the Capitol look to repeal outdated war authorizations, such as the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War, and rewrite the 2001 law that governs much of the U.S. overseas counterterrorism operations.

The House already voted in June to repeal the 2002 Iraq authorization, which advocates warn is ripe for abuse if left on the books. Most Republicans, however, opposed repealing the law without a replacement framework. A similar bipartisan repeal is advancing in the Senate.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are also weighing how to best rewrite the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in the wake of 9/11 that undergirds operations in Afghanistan as well as the campaign against ISIS in the Middle East and efforts to combat terrorist groups in Africa.

President Joe Biden has endorsed legislative efforts that would repeal or narrow some war powers. But the White House hasn’t yet said what specific proposals Biden will or won’t approve.

Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

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