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Road ahead: War powers debate shifts to House

Senate turns back to nominations after brief period of legislating

California Rep. Ro Khanna is leading an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would block the Trump administration from using military force in Iran without congressional approval. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
California Rep. Ro Khanna is leading an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would block the Trump administration from using military force in Iran without congressional approval. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 5:02 p.m. | Congress could get a second opportunity this week to try and block President Donald Trump from going to war with Iran without congressional approval as the House debates its fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

The Senate rejected an amendment seeking to add such language to its version of the measure before it left for the July Fourth recess. The overall measure passed 86-8.

The House vote on the NDAA, expected by week’s end, represents one of the rare instances in which the chamber lags behind the Senate. It could also hit a sore spot for the Democratic majority that will head into negotiations with the Senate over the competing defense bills, coming on the heels of the House’s failed effort to get their priorities into the Senate version of a border supplemental funding bill.

Meanwhile, after a surge in legislating on NDAA and the border supplemental before the recess, the Senate this week is back to its routine of considering nominations.

Once the House completes consideration of its NDAA this week, the two chambers will eventually have to work out their differences on the defense policy bill, starting with the topline spending number. The House NDAA authorizes $733 billion, while the Senate version authorizes $750 billion.

House lawmakers filed 658 amendments to the NDAA. Some have already been withdrawn but the Rules Committee meets Tuesday to sort out which ones will get floor votes.

One amendment, by California Democrat Ro Khanna, would bar the use of military force in Iran without congressional approval. Its co-sponsors include 37 Democrats and three Republicans — Matt Gaetz of Florida, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Ken Buck of Colorado.

A similar amendment failed in the Senate, 50-40 — 10 votes short of the 60 needed. Prospects for Khanna’s amendment in the House are better, but it’s unclear if it would survive bicameral negotiations.

There are also several amendments pending to the House version of the NDAA dealing with the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force.

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who led a successful amendment to the fiscal 2020 defense appropriations bill to repeal the 2001 AUMF authorizing war in Afghanistan, has offered an amendment to the NDAA to repeal the 2002 AUMF, which authorized operations in Iraq.

Another California Democrat, Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, has offered an amendment to immediately repeal the 2002 AUMF and to sunset the 2001 AUMF effective Sept. 14, 2021, the 20th anniversary of its passage. The amendment also clarifies that the 2001 AUMF does not apply to Iran and provides an expedited procedure for Congress to consider a new AUMF, if needed.

The NDAA is the only bill the House is bringing to the floor under a rule this week. But one of the measures being brought to the floor under suspension of the rules, a fast-track process that requires two-thirds support for passage, is also worth watching because it deals with immigration.

The bill, called the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, would eliminate the per-country limitation for employment-based visas and increase the per-country limitation for family-sponsored immigrants. 

The bill, sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, is expected to pass given that it has 311 co-sponsors. But it’s a notable vote for Republicans to go on record supporting an immigration change that makes way for more family-sponsored immigrants — although not one that changes the overall number of allotted visas — when many in the party have called for cuts to family-based immigration.

Another suspension bill would make way for the first female president by updating the law against threatening the president and the first family. The measure would replace language describing “the wife of a former president during his lifetime, the widow of a former president until her death or remarriage” with non-gender-specific references.

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Back to nominations

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not starting easy as he returns his chamber’s focus to nominations. The first one up might be the most contentious of the week: Daniel Bress to be a judge on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

During Senate Judiciary Committee consideration, ranking member Dianne Feinstein argued the administration exaggerated Bress’ ties to California.

“It’s not a debate about whether his views are within the legal mainstream or what his opinions are on various issues. This is a factual discussion about whether he is a California attorney,” Feinstein said last month. “And the facts are clear. He is not.”

Other votes are lined up on confirming district judges based in Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania, as well as executive branch positions.

Off the floor, the Senate Banking Committee will hear from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Thursday, a day after he is scheduled to testify at a House Financial Services hearing on monetary policy and the economy.

Oversight of migrant facilities

The House is focusing much of its committee action this week on oversight. 

The Oversight and Reform panel is holding two hearings on migrant detention after last week’s release of a damning Department of Homeland Security inspector general report on border detention centers and first-hand accounts of migrant abuse from Democratic lawmakers who visited facilities in Texas.

On Wednesday, the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee hosts a hearing titled, “Kids in Cages: Inhumane Treatment at the Border.” Then on Friday, the full committee discusses “substantial allegations of mistreatment” stemming from the administration’s family separation policy.

Also on the Oversight panel’s agenda is a full committee hearing Wednesday on the administration’s decision in Texas v. United States not to defend the 2010 health care law. The hearing comes the day after oral arguments in the case before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The committee invited Office of Management and Budget acting Director Russell Vought — who was reportedly one of the administration officials who drove the decision not to defend the health care law — to testify, but he declined.

Other House hearings include a Homeland Security Committee examination Wednesday of DHS’s use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies and a State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee look at U.S. efforts to counter Russian disinformation and influence campaigns.

On Friday, the Judiciary Committee continues its series following up on former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. This third hearing looks at the constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct. One of those processes, an impeachment inquiry, has the support of 86 House Democrats, according to CQ Roll Call’s tally.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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