Defense

Compromise defense bill offers rebuke of Trump’s Germany drawdown

Language aimed at constraining President Trump’s ability to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany has made it in the compromise version of the annual defense policy bill, three House aides familiar with the bill told The Hill.

“There is language that prevents reduction in the number of U.S. forces stationed in Germany below 34,500 until 120 days after the secretary of Defense submits an assessment and planning regarding the implications for allies, costs, military families, deterrence and other key issues,” one of the aides said.

The compromise bill also “expresses the sense of Congress emphasizing the value of U.S. forces in Germany and the U.S-German alliance,” the aide added.

The issue could become moot after President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January. Biden’s advisers have said he will review Trump’s plan, and given his pledge to restore traditional U.S. alliances, he is widely expected to kill the troop drawdown.

But the language’s inclusion in the compromise National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is yet another bipartisan rebuke of Trump in his final weeks in office.

Trump lost two high-profile fights for which he threatened to veto the NDAA.

Trump first threatened to veto the bill over language requiring the Pentagon to rename Confederate-named military bases. Both the initial House and Senate versions included a form of the requirement.

The compromise bill has the Senate language, which requires Confederate names to be stripped from military bases and other Pentagon property in three years.

On Tuesday night, Trump issued a new veto threat, saying the NDAA must include unrelated legislation to repeal a tech liability shield known as Section 230.

But on Wednesday, lawmakers moved ahead with finalizing an agreement that excludes language on Section 230, defying the latest veto threat.

Trump doubled down Thursday on his insistence that a Section 230 repeal be included in the defense bill, signaling the veto showdown is alive.

Congressional negotiators began signing the compromise, known as a conference report, Wednesday evening, but the full text has not yet been released.

Language on Trump’s Germany withdrawal was included in the version of the NDAA the House passed in July after being approved by the House Armed Services Committee in a bipartisan 49-7 vote. The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

The Senate did not have a similar provision in its bill, but there was bipartisan opposition to Trump’s plan in both chambers of Congress. Still, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) supports Trump’s drawdown, which raised questions about whether the language would survive negotiations on the final bill.

The version in the compromise bill differs slightly from Gallego and Bacon’s original amendment, which would have blocked funding to reduce the number of troops in Germany until the Defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff separately certify that reducing the number of American troops in Germany is in America’s best interest and would not significantly undermine U.S. and allies’ security, among other criteria.

Trump announced the drawdown in June as punishment for Germany not spending more on defense.

NATO allies agreed in 2014 to each spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024, but Germany is not on track to meet the goal.

In July, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined a plan to fulfill Trump’s order by withdrawing about 11,900 of the 36,000 U.S. troops in Germany. About 5,600 of them would move elsewhere in Europe, while about 6,400 would return to the United States. Some of those coming back to the United States would become rotational forces that return to Europe.

Pentagon officials have insisted the drawdown is a strategic realignment of forces, but Trump has continued to blame Germany’s defense spending.

At a September House Armed Services hearing, lawmakers in both parties tore into Pentagon officials when they could not answer basic questions about the plan such as cost, consultations with allies, the department’s decisionmaking process and how the move would effect U.S. deterrence against Russia.

Tags Biden transition Defense bill Donald Trump Germany James Inhofe Joe Biden Mark Esper NDAA Ruben Gallego troop drawdown
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