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: The House on Tuesday voted to repeal a pair of decades-old war authorizations related to the Middle East amid a broader debate over presidential war powers.
As part of a package of seven bills considered to be uncontroversial, the House voted 366-46 to repeal the 1991 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that greenlit the Gulf War in Iraq, as well as a 1957 resolution that provided broad authorization for military action in the Middle East to protect against “armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism.”
The "no" votes came entirely from Republicans.
Earlier: The vote comes just under two weeks after the House voted to repeal the 2002 AUMF that authorized the Iraq War. It also comes days after President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles MORE ordered fresh airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Iranian-back militias that have reignited war powers debates among lawmakers.
Biden did not cite an AUMF as his legal authority for Sunday’s strikes, nor did he do so for similar strikes in February.
Lawmaker’s argument: But proponents of repealing the aging war authorizations argue they must be taken off the books or else risk being abused by the executive branch.
“By not repealing an AUMF and allowing it to remain long after it has served this purpose, we open the door for future administrations of either party to abuse that authority and stretch the authorization far beyond its original purpose,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksMeeks on being mistaken for a staffer: 'Glad I still blend in with the cool kids' Blinken grilled in first hearing since Afghanistan withdrawal Defense & National Security: The post-airlift evacuation struggle MORE (D-N.Y.) said Monday during floor debate on the bills approved Tuesday.
Uncontroversial: But unlike the repeal of the 2002 AUMF, which was a mostly partisan vote, repealing the 1991 and 1957 laws were seen as uncontroversial.
Both repeals were on the House’s “suspension” calendar, which is reserved for bills that can pass by voice vote or at least a two-thirds majority in a roll call vote.
“The specific point of this law was accomplished,” House Foreign Affairs
Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulMore Republicans call on Biden to designate Taliban as terrorist group How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation Republican taps CNN reporter to investigate Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (R-Texas) said of the 1991 AUMF. “Therefore there's no reason to leave it on the books. It is, in that sense, very different from the 2002 Iraq AUMF.”
On the 1957 resolution, McCaul called it an “unused relic of the Cold War,” adding with a chuckle that he “wasn’t even born when this one was enacted — just barely though.”
HOUSE PANEL RELEASES $706B PENTAGON SPENDING BILL
House Democrats on Tuesday released a $706 billion Pentagon funding bill, hewing closely to the top-line amount requested by President Biden for fiscal 2022.
“Democrats have landed on a responsible funding level for the Department of Defense that maintains a strong national security posture today, while making important investments in modernization that will make us even stronger in the years to come,” House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chair Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumFunding fight imperils National Guard ops Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill House subcommittee advances 6B Pentagon spending bill MORE (D-Minn.) said in a statement Tuesday unveiling the bill.
How it compares: Last month, the Biden administration requested a total of $753 billion for defense programs for fiscal 2022, including $715 billion for the Pentagon.
The number was panned by Republicans, who argued it is too small to meet challenges posed by China, as well as by progressive Democrats who argued it is too large in the face of pressing domestic needs and nonmilitary threats such as pandemics.
Still, moderate Democrats have backed Biden's request, with Blue Dog Coalition leadership telling appropriators and authorizers in a letter last week they "strongly support the robust defense funding level included in the president’s budget request."
Differences: When combined with $11 billion from a separate military construction bill, the House Appropriations Committee does not stray too far from the amount Biden requested in the Pentagon spending bill released Tuesday.
Still, the bill includes several policy riders that could entice liberals into supporting the bill.
Among them, the bill seeks to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility by prohibiting funds from being used to operate the infamous prison after Sept. 30, 2022.
The bill would also block funds from being used to support or facilitate offensive military operations conducted by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against the Houthis in the war in Yemen.
Similarities: On funding, the bill matches Biden’s request for 85 F-35 fighter jets, the first time in years appropriators are not proposing to buy more F-35s than requested.
It would also fund eight new Navy ships. But unlike the budget request, the bill would fund two Aegis guided missile destroyers, not one. The other ships would be two Virginia-class attack submarines, one frigate, one John LewisJohn LewisBudowsky: High stakes drama for Biden, Manchin, Sinema Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise Senate Democrats unveil new voting rights bill MORE-class refueler, one towing, salvage and rescue ship, and one T-AGOS(X) auxiliary general ocean surveillance ship.
The bill would fund a 2.7 percent pay raise for troops, in line with Biden’s request and the federal formula for setting a minimum annual pay raise for the military.
The bill also matches Biden’s request for an end-strength of 1,346,400 troops, a decrease of 1,975 troops from this year.
BIDEN AIRSTRIKE HEATS UP WAR POWERS DEBATE
President Biden’s ordered airstrikes over the weekend against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria have added fuel to a simmering debate in Congress over presidential war powers.
Top Democrats have backed Biden’s move as a proportionate and necessary response to escalating drone strikes from the militias against U.S. interests in Iraq.
But the strikes — the second time Biden has hit the militias — came as Democrats were already working to claw back presidential war powers.
And even as several Democrats said they trust Biden’s judgment, they also pushed the White House for further explanation for the latest strikes, with some expressing concerns about an escalating tit for tat between the United States and the militias that would demand Biden come to Congress for approval to launch military action.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association International and the U.S. Naval Institute will hold the virtual West 2021 Conference: “What is the Promise and Progress of Naval Integration,” defense officials speaking beginning at 9:30 a.m.
A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2022 Rotary Wing Aviation Budget Request,” with testimony from defense officials at 3 p.m.
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