President Obama, and his national security Cabinet and staff, had better pay attention to the incredibly close vote on the McGovern (D-Mass)-Jones (R-NC)Amendment. The Amendment to the Defense Department authorization (DOD) bill was a vote about changing our severely flawed Afghanistan policy.
The McGovern-Jones Amendment called for an accelerated withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan by requiring a fixed timetable to turn military operations over to the Kabul government. The Amendment, co-sponsored by Representatives Amash (R-Mi), Cicilline (D-RI), Lewis (D-Ga), Paul (R-Tx), Loretta Sanchez (D-Ca) and Welch (D-Vt), reflects bi-partisan doubts and dissatisfaction with the President’s Afghanistan policy.The Amendment drew total support from liberals and near unanimous support from Democratic moderates. My sources tell me that the Amendment’s measurable support from conservatives reportedly surprised the White House and the Defense Department.
Twenty-six Republicans voted for the Amendment. Three Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee approved the Amendment.Only 8 Democrats in toto voted against it.
Given the House’s polarized history of recent years this vote represents a major breakthrough. A policy placing fixed timetables is how the House works to redirect policy when it finds the current policy wanting. Historically the DOD bill is the way to express wider beliefs on major foreign policy questions. That occurred during the Vietnam War and on major arms control questions all through the 1980s. The House Republican leadership also works to exercise Congressional powers but in ways that harm national security. For example one provision in the DOD bill limits the President’s authority to cut nuclear weapons that have been deployed or retired from the stockpile.
Past history of DOD bills merits examination.The House calling for a time limited plan to retain troops in Afghanistan is its way to get accustomed to taking on the President and his Team. By voting on these issues in their varied policy stages is how Congress finally asserted its power to legislatively end the Vietnam War. It is also how Congress used its legislative power to limit nuclear testing in the Reagan years– policies that led to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that is now waiting to have the Senate give its advice and consent to.
The House action should give the Senate encouragement to move off of its muted doubts about the current policy.
Stay tuned. Other bills, apart from the DOD authorization, will give Congress an added vehicle to legislatively challenge our Afghanistan policies.
Senior Congressional Fellow,