House Gives President Nearly Endless Power To Wage War, But Also Only Barely Votes Down Withdrawal

This afternoon, the House of Representatives has been debating — and voting on — a set of amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA). One particularly important bipartisan amendment offered by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) would have struck Section 1034 from the language of the bill.

What is Section 1034? It’s a section that was inserted by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and others that would update the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was passed after the 9/11 attacks. It would vastly expand the power of the President to engage in war. As the ACLU explains, the provision would go much further than the AUMF, “allowing war wherever there are terrorism suspects in any country around the world without an expiration date, geographical boundaries or connection to the 9/11 attacks or any other specific harm or threat to the United States. There have been no hearings on the provision, nor has its necessity been explained by Rep. McKeon or anyone else in Congress.” The section also strikes a blow against civil liberties by expanding detainment powers.

This provision is so expansive that even the Obama administration — the very executive branch whose power would be greatly enhanced — has issued a veto threat should it survive Congress. This afternoon, the Lee-Amash amendment was defeated. As The Nation’s George Zornick notes, the amendment was defeated along a 234-187 vote, with 20 Democrats voting against and 21 Republicans voting for it:

On a near-party line vote of 234-187, the House has voted down an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that would have stripped the so-called “endless war” provision from the defense authorization bill. […] Twenty-one Republicans broke with their party to support the Amash-Lee amendment; unfortunately, 20 Democrats also crossed over and opposed it.

Yet there was a silver lining to today’s NDAA votes. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced an amendment to require the President to submit a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. While it failed, it only lost by 11 votes and netted the votes of even 26 Republicans. Recall, last year, when Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced legislation to require an exit from Afghanistan, it failed 18-80, with most Democrats voting against it.