New chairmen poised to challenge Obama on national security

New chairmen poised to challenge Obama on national security
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Senate Republicans are preparing to use their new majority to press President Obama on a number of national security challenges.

The newly empowered incoming Republican chairmen are vowing to make the case for a more robust agenda, from reversing sequestration cuts at the Pentagon to boosting the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and protecting intelligence programs.

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At the top of their list is limiting looming budget cuts under sequestration.

“My top priority is to try to repeal sequestration and get the Armed Services committee functioning in its proper of policy, determining budgets rather than budgets determining policy,” says Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVeterans group to hand out USS John McCain T-shirts for July 4 on the National Mall Will we ever have another veteran as president? Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE (R-Ariz.), who is poised to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The administration and Congressional Republicans have been deadlocked for years on how best to reverse $1 trillion in sequestration cuts due to return in fiscal 2016.

Half of the those cuts will hit the Defense Department, for $500 billion over 10 years, doubling already scheduled reductions in spending.

The GOP wants to ditch the sequester for the Pentagon by slashing funding for other agencies, but Democrats say they’ll oppose shifting the burden on to domestic social programs.

McCain, one of the administration’s most vocal national security critics, has also floated reorganizing the Armed Services subcommittees, and creating subpanels on cybersecurity and investigations.

While details of the investigatory subpanel remain murky, McCain hinted his close allies, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — a military lawyer — and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) — a former prosecutor and attorney general — could play a role.

One possible issue for the panel could be the president’s decision earlier this year to exchange five Taliban prisoners for captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The trade roiled Capitol Hill, after the White House carried out the prisoner swap without notifying lawmakers.

McCain recently promised that Armed Services under his watch would “absolutely” probe the trade exchange.

The investigatory subpanel could also prove a headache for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if lawmakers delve again into the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. A House special committee is also probing the administration’s response to the attacks as Clinton gears up for a likely 2016 presidential bid.

McCain’s proposed cyber panel could also have a key role.

Defense officials have long warned that China and Russia routinely hack classified military networks to steal closely guarded secrets. And many Republicans have clamored for the administration to take the offensive in cyber space.

“Cyber is a very big item,” McCain told The Hill last week.

The administration’s foreign policy agenda will also face new hurdles with a Republican Senate.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment Jeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump MORE (R-Tenn.), the odds-on favorite to helm the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he has “a schedule that’s laid out ... so we can hit the ground running.”

While he declined to provide details, one of the first issues for the panel will be crafting a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS.

The administration is currently relying on authority granted after the 9/11 attacks, but the president says he would welcome a new measure targeted to ISIS.

Lawmakers disagree over the terms of a new authorization, with some Democrats aiming to block U.S. troops from combat or a time-limited action. GOP senators who want an aggressive campaign, though, have vowed to reject any effort to limit Obama’s military options.

The White House has “not yet requested we write one, and, to be candid … they’re not really ready,” Corker told reporters last week.

“There’s so much they still need to decide upon,” he added. “They need to explicitly seek it. They need to send us a draft.”

Corker would play a central role in crafting the scope of a measure, in terms of which terror groups it would target, whether or not the U.S. can deploy ground troops and how long the campaign would last.

Corker said work should begin on the authorization once the 114th Congress is sworn in, to give the administration “an opportunity to think through” what the measure should include.

‘’Most of what happened prior to the election was for optics to make it look like something was happening more than it was,” he said.

The Tennessee lawmaker has consistently called for the administration to take a harder stance against ISIS, as well as on other international hotbutton issues such as Russia’s moves in Ukraine and against Iran’s nuclear program.

Republicans are also poised to sound the alarm on intelligence issues.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-N.C.), who will lead the Senate Intelligence Committee next year, said his focus is to “reconfirm that our mission is 100 percent oversight.”

“Part of the committee’s responsibility is to assess whether we’re effective, whether our intelligence collection is effective,” he told The Hill.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who would tell you that our collection in Syria today is effective. We’ve got great deficiencies.”

Burr is positioned to be the face of the GOP as the administration works with lawmakers to declassify the “torture report,” which is expected to reveal harsh details about former tactics such as waterboarding.

The CIA has been wrangling for months with current Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and other Democrats over what information should be redacted from the public version of the 6,300-page report.

Republicans on the panel, including Burr, did not take part in the investigation.

The North Carolina lawmaker, who has said that Intelligence committee matters should never be discussed publicly, disputed the notion that there would be a “honeymoon” for the CIA and other intelligence agencies under his chairmanship.

“I think there are some at the agency and some within the intelligence community that may find a slight change in process that makes us much more focused and much more direct on our questions that are going to require not a conversation, but answers,” Burr vowed.

--This report was updated at 11:11 a.m.