Overnight Defense: Congress looks to rein in Biden’s war powers | Diversity chief at Special Operations Command reassigned during probe into social media posts
Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: Congress is wading into a messy fight over President Biden’s war powers after years of ceding authority to the White House.
The legislative effort is blurring political lines by testing the balance of power between two branches of government and creating strange bedfellows, with hawkish Republicans who disagree with Biden’s policies wary of attempts to limit presidential authority on the issue.
Proponents of change are hoping Biden’s ascendancy, after serving for decades in Congress, and shifts in public opinion in the decades since earlier military authorizations by lawmakers will provide a boost of momentum after years of stalemate.
What they want to change: Congress is looking at three previous authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs): the 1991 measure for the Gulf War, the 2001 bill passed days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and 2002 legislation passed for the Iraq War.
The biggest challenge, lawmakers acknowledge, will be how to handle the 2001 authorization. It was approved by Congress just days after Sept. 11, 2001, to go after terrorist groups behind the attack. But it’s since been stretched to cover military operations in 19 countries, including against groups that didn’t even exist on 9/11.
The ’tricky part’: “What the replacement looks like, what are the contours of it, that’s going to be the tricky part of that and the more difficult part,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a member of the panel, agreed that the 2001 AUMF should be “rewritten” but that it would be hard to do.
“The administration seems open to revisiting some of these things, but admittedly the ’01 AUMF is going to be much more challenging than ditching the ’02 and the ’91,” he said.
How the White House is leaning: The Biden administration has signaled it’s open to revamping the military authorizations, sparking optimism among those on Capitol Hill who want Congress to reassert itself on foreign policy after increasingly yielding to the executive branch in recent decades.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the administration was “committed to working with Congress to ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework.”
Early discussions: Menendez and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) say they are in early discussions with administration officials about rewriting the 2001 authorization. Kaine, who noted that he had already talked with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, predicted that they would sit down after the current two-week recess to talk about what the administration’s red lines might be.
“The first thing I’m trying to do is talk to the White House about any ‘thou shalts’ or ‘thou shalt nots,’” he said. “We’re going to have to find, definitely, an accord. Because there’s different points of view.”
But trying to repeal the 2001 authorization could spark pushback from both sides — with the executive branch and Republicans wary of taking potential military options off the table and Democrats wanting new restrictions.
DIVERSITY CHIEF AT US SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND REASSIGNED
Officials have reassigned a new diversity and inclusion chief at U.S. Special Operations Command amid an investigation into his previous controversial social media posts.
Special Operations Command spokesman Kenneth McGraw told The Hill on Monday that Richard Torres-Estrada was reassigned “to other duties” pending the conclusion of the probe.
“The Commander has directed an investigation to look into the facts surrounding Mr. Torres-Estrada’s selection,” McGraw said in a statement. “It would be inappropriate to comment on specifics until the evaluation is complete.”
What set off the probe: A senior military spokesperson confirmed to CNN that one of the posts under scrutiny involved a post that seemingly compared former President Trump to Adolf Hitler.
Torres-Estrada’s June 20 post included a photo from Trump’s largely criticized visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed with a Bible after law enforcement forcibly cleared the area in front of the White House with tear gas.
Next to the former president’s picture, Torres-Estrada put a photo of Hitler in front of a crowd while giving the Nazi salute, according to CNN. The picture of the German dictator was edited to show him holding a Bible.
That post was accompanied by the Spanish text, saying, “Let me leave this here for you and slowly back away (while I continue to work from home).”
The Pentagon’s response: During a Monday press conference, Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin knows about the social media posts and the investigation.
“Obviously, we take the need to promote diversity and inclusion seriously here in the department. The secretary has spoken to that many times,” Kirby said. “And we certainly want that work to be transparent, to be credible, to be effective, and of course professional.”
“We want everybody to take those duties and responsibilities seriously and professionally, but we’re not going to get ahead of Special Operations Command’s investigation,” he added.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement will hold its virtual Counter UAS Summit: “Update on DOD Counter Small UAS Strategy,” with Nicole Thomas, division chief for strategy and policy in the Army Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Office, at 9:50 a.m. https://www.idga.org/events-counteruas-usa/?mac=IDGA_Events_Image_Listing&utm_medium=Portal&utm_source=idga
Former Defense Secretary and retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis will speak at the Hampton Roads World Affairs Council Virtual Symposium virtual panel discussion, “Stronger Together: Perspectives on Strengthening the Alliance,” at 12:30 p.m. https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_eCXEziS8R9WwkSQQmq3lnQ%20%20%20?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20033021_03/30/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393
Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of Air Mobility Command and nominee to head the U.S. Transportation Command will speak at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event at 1 p.m. https://www.mitchellaerospacepower.org/?rid=78393&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily+on+Defense&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Daily+on+Defense+033021_03%2F30%2F2021
Maj. Gen. John Epperly, deputy commanding general of the Army National Guard – U.S. Army Futures Command, will speak at a Defense One webinar on “The Future of Army Modernization,” at 2 p.m. https://www.defenseone.com/feature/the-future-of-army-modernization/?oref=ge-events-upcoming&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20033021_03/30/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393
Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander, U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, will speak to the media as part of the George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group at 3:30 p.m.
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