- Progressives in the House are furious that most of their Democratic colleagues voted in favour of a $US738 defence bill that excluded provisions aimed at ending US involvement in the Yemen conflict and limiting President Donald Trump’s war powers.
- The National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) passed in a 377 to 48vote on Wednesday, with 188 Democrats voting in favour and just 41 voting “nay.”
- “The NDAA is a capitulation to the White House’s priorities,” Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna told Insider on Thursday, adding that it essentially gave Trump “everything he wanted.”
- The legislation passed as Trump is on the verge of being impeached, in part over allegations he abused power by freezing military aid to Ukraine as part of a scheme to aid his 2020 reelection campaign.
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The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a $US738 billion defence bill that funds the US-Mexico border wall, the Space Force, and continued US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, handing President Donald Trump a big win as Democrats are simultaneously on the brink of impeaching him.
The National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) passed in a 377 to 48vote. Different versions of the NDAA passed in the House and Senate earlier this year, and after months of deliberation the House Armed Services Committee unveiled a compromise package on Monday night. The NDAA now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it’s expected to pass next week.
Though it passed with bipartisan support, progressive Democrats are livid that many of their colleagues supported the compromise bill, with Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California telling Insider it gives Trump everything he wants.
“The NDAA is a capitulation to the White House’s priorities, as is evidenced by the president’s tweet…He basically said that he got everything he wanted, from border security and a bloated defence budget to a blank check on policy in the Middle East,” Khanna said via a phone call Thursday morning.
The bill provides for a massive boost in military spending compared to 2019 – an increase of $US22 billion – and authorizes the creation of a Space Force, a sixth branch of the military that Trump has pushed for.
The final draft of the legislation also excluded language progressive Democrats like Khanna have championed, including measures aimed at ending US support for the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen war, placing restrictions on the use of military funds for the president’s border wall project, and requiring congressional approval for any military action against Iran, among other provisions.
Trump on Wednesday tweeted: “Wow! All of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA: Pay Raise for our Troops, Rebuilding our Military, Paid Parental Leave, Border Security, and Space Force! Congress – don’t delay this anymore! I will sign this historic defence legislation immediately!”
‘It would have ended the war’
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, has portrayed the compromise bill as “the most progressive defence bill we have passed in decades.” In a statement on Wednesday, Smith pushed against the bill’s detractors in his own party, touting measures that provide for paid parental leave to civilian federal employees and end the so-called “widows tax” that prevent family members of deceased troops from receiving full benefits.
During the debate over the bill, which had included restrictions on using force against Iran, Khanna said it was “Orwellian” to describe the bill as “progressive.”
“Let’s speak in facts,” Khanna said on Wednesday. “This defence budget is $US120 billion more than what Obama left us with. That could fund free public college for every American. It could fund access to high-speed, affordable internet for every American. But it’s worse. The bipartisan amendment to stop the war in Yemen: stripped by the White House. The bipartisan amendment to stop the war in Iran: stripped by the White House.”
The California lawmaker earned praise from presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders for his remarks, who echoed his perspective in a tweet and bashed US support for Saudia Arabia in Yemen.
Both lawmakers have long pushed for the US to cease its backing of the kingdom in the bloody conflict, which has led to over 100,000 deaths – including 12,000 civilians – according to the latest estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). Yemen is the site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with millions of people facing starvation.
My friend @RepRoKhanna is right: it is Orwellian for Congress to hand over billions of dollars worth of weapons and bombs to a president waging a horrific, unconstitutional war in Yemen—and call that progressive. pic.twitter.com/6SUmUUhv3q
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 11, 2019
But Smith issued an impassioned rebuke of Khanna’s statements, stating: “There was nothing in the House bill or any bill that would have ended the war in Yemen. It’s not just Orwellian to say that, it is breathtakingly dishonest to tell people out there that there was something we could have done to end the war in Yemen.”
Khanna, who sponsored the language on Yemen that was excluded from the final version of the NDAA, fired back on Thursday morning, telling Insider: “The provision we had would have grounded the Saudi air force…It would have ended the war.” Smith was “factually wrong,” Khanna said, in suggesting he’d exaggerated the impact the provision could’ve had on the Yemen war.
He suggested that Smith speak to “people actually familiar with the situation” such as Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen. Khanna added: “They would tell him that if you stopped providing training and logistical support to the Saudi air force…that would bring the war to an end.”
‘What we ought to be doing is restricting the president from making foreign policy blunders’
With Democrats seeking to impeach Trump over allegations he froze roughly $US400 million in congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine as part of a scheme to help his reelection campaign, is there a disconnect with House Democrats passing a bill that boosts military spending? “Two things are distinct,” Khanna told Insider News.
“There’s no doubt that president has abused his office by withholding military aid for a political favour,” Khanna said. “But what we ought to be doing is restricting the president from making foreign policy blunders, instead we have taken away any of those restrictions and given him a huge defence budget…that can be used for foreign wars.”
Khanna said that Congress has “abdicated” a lot of its responsibility in protecting US interests abroad. The California Democrat said lawmakers should be restricting the president’s ability to send more troops to the Middle East, holding hearings on the Afghanistan papers to understand why the public has been misled, and stopping the Saudi air force from engaging in the bombing of Yemen, among other issues.
The resistance to Trump’s foreign policy in Congress has been “woefully inadequate,” Khanna said.
Ending US support for the Saudi-led coalition has gained bipartisan support in Congress over the past year or so in the wake of the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. After Congress passed a bipartisan resolution to that effect in April, Trump issued the second veto of his presidency.
The president has refused to budge when it comes to support for Saudi Arabia, despite the growing calls in Washington for the US to reassess the value of the relationship.
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