Congress Taking Back Power From Trump on National Security

Republicans in Congress are proposing new checks to curb the White House’s power and in some cases simply ignoring the Trump administration’s desire on national security and foreign policy
Capitol Building
Capitol Building

In ways big and small, Congress is taking back power from President Donald Trump on national security matters.

From Russia to the Pentagon budget, Republicans in Congress are proposing new checks to curb the White House’s power and in some cases simply ignoring the Trump administration’s desires on national security and foreign policy, CNN reported.

Wary of favorable comments Trump has previously made about Russia, the senate has passed a significant Russia sanctions package that gives Congress the ability to review any administration effort to roll back sanctions against the Kremlin.

Congressional committees approved three defense bills this week boosting Pentagon spending by about $30 billion more than the Trump administration proposed after Republicans complained that Trump’s budget failed to rebuild the military as he promised.

And in a surprise vote this week, a House panel approved an amendment to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which provides legal authority for the US wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think it’s sinking in, especially with Republican members of Congress, that they are not getting the kind of adult leadership out of the White house that would allow you to give deference to the White House,” said Mieke Eoyang, a national security analyst at Third Way and former congressional aide.

“So you see Congress stepping up to take a much more aggressive role on national security for the first time in a very long time.”

  Legislative vs. Executive

For years, a small chorus in Congress has bemoaned the legislative branch giving back its national security powers to the executive, from war-making to the budget caps imposed by the sequestration law.

Congress certainly hasn’t taken back those authorities in full, and some experts argue most of the steps taken thus far are mostly symbolic. There are still major hurdles to passing a new ISIS war authorization, the new Russia sanctions have stalled with the House, and sequestration spending caps are still looming over the spending process.

At the start of the Trump administration, Republican congressional leaders on national security were hopeful that the national security team -- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats -- would steer Trump in what they consider the right direction.

Trump was praised for his decision to strike Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack. But in many cases, Trump has ignored or overruled his national security team, and the president’s actions and statements -- or lack of action -- has sparked a more robust response on Capitol Hill than during the Obama years.

“I think we are seeing a growing dose of skepticism by members of Congress -- notably in the president’s own party -- about Trump’s ability and willingness to grasp the complexities of key national security problems and his unique responsibilities as commander in chief,” said John Kirby, a CNN diplomatic and military analyst and a former Pentagon and State Department spokesman under Obama.

 Repeated Rebukes  

The senate’s Russia sanctions bill may be the most significant fight thus far over the balance of national security power. The bill, which passed 98-2, would give Congress the ability to block Trump from rolling back sanctions on Moscow and comes amid concerns from lawmakers following a Washington Post report in May that said Trump was considering returning two Russian compounds that the US seized in the December sanctions on Russia.

Senators are now pressing the House to pass the bill without weakening it.

While the House Appropriations Committee’s vote to repeal the 2001 war authorization is unlikely to be signed into law, it is another implicit rebuke to Trump and a sign of growing congressional discontent with an unchecked war on terror.

The proposed amendment received support from both Democrats and Republicans during debate, but the vote caught House leaders in both parties off guard.

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