WASHINGTON – A House Democrat on Wednesday accused Republican leaders of underhanded tactics after a GOP-controlled panel stripped from a military spending bill her amendment to force a debate to give president new authority for military action against terrorist groups.
Rep. Barbara Lee of California blamed Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for acting like an "autocrat" and abdicating Congress' constitutional responsibility to decide whether to send American fighting forces into harm's way.
"Congress has been missing in action on matters of war and peace for nearly 16 years," Lee said in a statement. "Speaker Ryan should explain why he is undermining the democratic process and acting in such an autocratic manner. What is he afraid of?"
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, called Lee's amendment "an irresponsible measure that would have would have left service members in the field without an authorization to defeat al-Qaeda and (the Islamic State) and could have led to the release of the prisoners at Guantanamo."
To fight the Islamic State group, the Trump administration, and the Obama administration before it, relies on the 2001 congressional authorizations. The White House's use of a congressional authorization from a decade and half ago is a legal stretch at best, according to Lee and other critics.
Lee, an anti-war lawmaker and the only member of Congress to oppose the post-Sept. 11, 2001 authorization, has long argued Congress needs to exercise its constitutional responsibility and provide updated authority to reflect how the dynamics of the battlefield have shifted. She and other lawmakers have described the existing authorization for the use of military force as a "blank check" that was approved before the Islamic State group existed.
For example, the 2001 authorization didn't anticipate U.S. military confrontations with Syria. President Donald Trump in April ordered the firing of dozens of Tomahawk missiles at an air base in central Syria and American forces last month shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet.
Lee's amendment to the spending bill won bipartisan backing last month from Appropriations Committee members. Her measure would have repealed the 2001 war authorization 240 days after the spending bill is enacted. She argued that eight months is enough time for Congress to approve new war authority.
The House Rules Committee, which readies legislation for consideration on floor of the House after it clears the committees, used a procedural loophole to strike Lee's amendment from the defense bill late Tuesday, according to the congresswoman's office. That prevents the full House from voting on the measure.
Among the Republicans to back Lee's amendment were Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Chris Stewart of Utah, who both said Congress had put off the debate for too long.
But Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, objected to Lee's amendment. She said it would tie the hands of the U.S. to act on its own or with other countries to attack and defeat terrorist groups. She also said Lee's provision would make a major policy change and didn't belong in legislation designed to fund the armed forces.
In a twist, the Rules Committee replaced Lee's measure with a less forceful amendment crafted by Cole. His amendment requires the Trump administration to submit a report to Congress that outlines a strategy for defeating Islamic State militants and other terror groups and the authorization they need from Capitol Hill to accomplish those goals.
Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner