Senate

Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump’s power under Insurrection Act

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to limit presidential power under the Insurrection Act after President Trump warned that he could deploy active military troops into U.S. cities.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would require consultation with Congress before a president used the Insurrection Act and would limit use of the law to 14 days unless lawmakers pass a resolution to extend it. 

“President Trump has threatened to use a slavery-era law to silence calls for justice from thousands of Americans protesting centuries of racist oppression,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

“I’m proposing urgently necessary reforms to impose oversight and accountability to the President’s broad, virtually unrestricted power. If the President uses military force against Americans at home, Congress should demand at least the same checks that apply to his use of force against adversaries abroad,” he added.

The bill would also provide for an expedited judicial review for individuals, or state and local governments, who believe a president has abused his or her authority under the Insurrection Act. It would also prevent the U.S. military from taking part in “search, seizure, arrest” or similar activities unless specifically granted that authority under law.

Democrats are vowing to try to include the bill in a piece of massive defense policy legislation, known as the National Defense Authorization Act. It would mark one of several amendments Democrats are planning to offer after recent protests.

In addition to Blumenthal, Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), and Edward Markey (Mass.) are supporting the legislation, known as the Curtailing Insurrection Act Violations of Individuals’ Liberties (CIVIL) Act

“I am supporting the CIVIL Act because we cannot allow President Trump to weaponize our military and use active duty troops to violate the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters working to bring about the change our nation desperately needs,” Baldwin said in a statement.

Blumenthal previously said Wednesday that he was working on legislation to rein in Trump’s power under the Insurrection Act, characterizing his power now as “broad [and] virtually undefined.” 

The Insurrection Act has emerged as a rolling point of debate after Trump warned that he could deploy the military if local and state officials aren’t able to quell days of protests and riots sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed while detained by Minneapolis police.

“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled,” Trump said at the White House this week. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the U.S. military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

The U.S. military is generally banned from conducting law enforcement on U.S. soil, but the 1807 Insurrection Act can override that prohibition. It was last used in 1992 by former President George H.W. Bush at the request of California’s governor to quell the Rodney King riots.

Trump appeared to walk back the idea of sending military forces into U.S. cities, saying Wednesday that he didn’t think it would be necessary. 

“It depends. I don’t think we’ll have to. We have very strong powers to do it. The National Guard is customary, and we have a very powerful National Guard,” Trump told Sean Spicer, his former press secretary, in an interview on Newsmax.

Tags Chris Van Hollen Donald Trump Edward Markey Insurrection Act Patrick Leahy Sean Spicer Tammy Baldwin
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