The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the FY 2020 NDAA

Jonathan Cohn
Jul 13, 2019 · 12 min read

Yesterday, the House passed a $733 billion defense authorization (NDAA) along mostly party lines. This amounts to a $16 billion increase from last year’s defense authorization, with the additional money being allocated to the Pentagon’s unaccountable slush fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

Nobody voted blue last year because they wanted to see the Pentagon’s slush fund get $16 billion more in funding.

All in all, the NDAA passed by the House is smaller than the $750 billion Trump has sought, but it is no model of reining in costs or taking stock of what security really means (and entails) in 2020 and beyond. The National Priorities Project has done an excellent job over the years of explaining just how warped the amount the US spends on its military is.

Progressives sought concessions in the NDAA, and there were some real wins with regard to curbing the corruption and war powers of the Trump administration. However, the chance that these measures survive a conference committee seems slim, and despite such progress, the bill continues to bloat an already bloated military budget and fails to push back against Trump’s manufactured border crisis to the extent required.

In the end, only 8 Democrats held strong against pressure from House Democratic Leadership and voted no: Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13). Every Republican voted no — of course, for the wrong reasons.

Let’s survey what made it into the final bill — and what didn’t.

The Good

Curbing Trump’s Corruption

Democrats took aim at Trump and his administration’s conflicts of interest with two amendments.

Adam Smith (WA-09) filed an amendment to extent the current statutory prohibition on members of Congress contracting with the federal government to include the President, Vice President, and any Cabinet member. It passed 243 to 186, with 11 Republicans joining Democrats in support.

And Ted Lieu (CA-33) filed an amendment to block funds from going to Trump’s hotels. That passed 223 to 205.

8 Democrats, however, voted against it. This pro-corruption caucus included Jason Crow (CO-06), Kendra Horn (OK-05), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Conor Lamb (PA-17), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Ben McAdams (UT-04), Collin Peterson (MN-07), and Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11).

Putting another aspect of Trump’s corruption in check, Jamie Raskin (MD-08) put forth an amendment to block the use of funds for Trump’s wannabe-dictator military parades.

It passed 221 to 207. Justin Amash (MI-03) joined Democrats in voting for it, and 11 Democrats joined the GOP in voting against it.

Those Trumpian Democrats were Anthony Brindisi (NY-19), Joe Cunningham (SC-01), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Ben McAdams (UT-04), Collin Peterson (MN-07), Max Rose (NY-11), Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02).

Studying the Cost of Overseas Military Bases

Ilhan Omar (MN-05) put forth an amendment to require a report on the costs and benefits of overseas military bases. The US currently has military bases in 80 countries. It stretches credulity to argue that all of them are necessary.

The amendment passed narrowly 219 to 210. Without the support from 8 Republicans and Republican-turned-Independent Justin Amash (MI0–03), the amendment would have failed due to the opposition of 22 Democrats.

Here were the 22 Democrats who opposed even studying the cost of military bases:

Preventing Unauthorized War against Iran

Ro Khanna (CA-17) offered an amendment to prohibit unauthorized military force in or against Iran.

It passed 251 to 170. 27 Republicans (along with Justin Amash) joined most Democrats in supporting it.

7 Democrats, however, voted against it. That warmonger caucus consisted of Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), Kathleen Rice (NY-04), and Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02).

Repealing the Iraq War AUMF

Barbara Lee (CA-13) offered an amendment to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002.

It passed 242 to 180. 227 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and Justin Amash voted for it. 176 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted against it.

The 4 Democratic warmongers were Jim Cooper (TN-05), Conor Lamb (PA-17), Elaine Luria (VA-02), and Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02).

They should all be ashamed; however, that there are only 4 of them is a positive sign. Five years ago, 35 Democrats voted against Lee’s amendment to block funds to the 2002 AUMF.

Recognizing the Flaws & Failures of the 2001 AUMF

Lee, who was the sole NO vote on the 2001 AUMF passed in response to the 9/11 attacks, offered another amendment to express the sense of Congress that the 2001 AUMF has been utilized well beyond the scope that Congress intended, that it has served as a blank check for any President to wage war at any time and any place, and that any new authorization for the use of military force to replace the 2001 AUMF should include a sunset clause, a clear and specific expression of objectives, targets, and geographic scope, and reporting requirements. Eighteen years ago, she feared that the AUMF would be a blank check, and that is exactly what it has been.

The amendment passed 237 to 183. 215 Democrats, 21 Republicans, and Amash voted for it. 167 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted against it.

Here are the 16 warmongering Democrats:

Curtailing US Support for Saudi War Crimes in Yemen

As I wrote earlier this week, the House started off strong here by passing a trio of amendments:

Rep. Ted Lieu (CA-33)’s first amendment prohibited the use of funds from the Special Defense Acquisition Fund to aid Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates in their war efforts in Yemen.

It passed 239 to 187. Only two Democrats — Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) and Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) — voted against it. 8 Republicans and Republican-turned-Independent Justin Amash (MI-03) voted for it.

Lieu’s second amendment blocked the use of funds to transfer any defense articles or services to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates under the emergency authority of the Arms Export Control Act that circumvents congressional review.

It passed 246 to 180, commanding the support of the full Democratic caucus along with 13 Republicans and Amash.

Rep. Adam Smith (WA-09)’s amendment to prohibit support to and participation in the Saudi-led coalitions military operations against the Houthis in Yemen also passed on a vote of 243 to 186, with all Democrats and 11 Republicans voting for it.

That continued on Friday as the House passed an amendment from Tom Malinowski (NJ-07) to provide for a one-year prohibition on the sale of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their war against Yemen.

The vote was 236 to 182. Five Republicans and Justin Amash joined Democrats in voting for it.

Prohibiting DOD from Housing ICE Detainees

Bennie Thompson (MS-02) offered an amendment to prohibit DOD funding to house any foreign nationals who are in the custody of and detained by ICE.

It passed 213 to 204. 212 Democrats and Justin Amash voted for it. 188 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted against it.

Here are the 16 Democrats:

Note that this amendment, however, does not cover the Border Patrol, who have been responsible for many of the human rights abuses in the headlines over the past few weeks.

Curbing Global Gun Sales

The Trump administration, doing the bidding of the NRA, has sought to shift commercial firearms from the State Department’s United States Munitions List and place them under the Commerce Department’s Control List, where the licensing process is less strict and congressional oversight is much weaker.

Norma Torres (CA-35) put forth an amendment to prevent such a change, and it passed 225 to 205. 221 Democrats and 4 Republicans — -Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Pete King (NY-02), Tom Rooney (FL-17), and Chris Smith (NJ-04) — voted for it. 11 Democrats joined Republicans in voting against it.

Those 11 Democrats were Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), Jim Costa (CA-16), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Joe Cunningham (SC-01), Jared Golden (ME-02), Kendra Horn (OK-05), Ron Kind (WI-03), Ben McAdams (UT-04), Kurt Schrader (OR-05), and Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02).

The Mixed: Not Fully Committed to Curbing the Costs of the Nuclear Arsenal

The US currently has 1750 deployed nuclear warheads and 4435 other warheads. The US and Russia combined have approximately 90% of the world’s warheads. The very existence of nuclear weapons is a threat to everyone, including the countries that hold them.

The FY 2020 NDAA took steps to reaffirm commitment to arms control treaties, but was more mixed on the issue of curbing costs of such a bloated arsenal.

On Thursday, the House passed an amendment from Eliot Engel (NY-16) prohibiting the use of funds to withdraw from the New START Treaty and expressing that the US should seek to extend New START, unless Russia is in material breach of the Treaty, or the US and Russia have entered into a new agreement that has equal or greater constraints, transparency, and verification measures on Russia’s nuclear forces.

The vote was 236 to 189, with Republicans Gus Bilikaris (FL-12), Bil Posey (FL-08), David Schweikert (AZ-06), and Chris Smith (NJ-04) joining Democrats in support.

The House also — narrowly — passed an amendment from Lois Frankel (FL-22) prohibiting funding for missiles non-compliant with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty unless certain conditions are met.

The vote was a tight 215 to 214. Indeed, it would not have passed without the support of its lone Republican backer, Tom Rooney. And that is because 17 Democrats voted against it.

Here are the 17:

The House voted 230 to 189 for an amendment from Pramila Jayapal to commission studies regarding potential cost savings with respect to the nuclear security enterprise and force structure from the Comptroller General, Federally funded research and development centers, and a nongovernmental think tank.

224 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and Justin Amash voted for it. 183 Republicans and 6 Democrats voted against it.

Those 6 Democrats were Elaine Luria (VA-02), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), Collin Peterson (MN-07), Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02), and David Trone (MD-06).

The House also maintained the NDAA’s prohibition on the use of funds for the deployment of low-yield ballistic missile warheads. Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (WA-09) eliminated funding for this weapon in the committee markup, rightfully viewing it as unnecessary.

An amendment from Mike Turner to strike this provision failed 201 to 221. 10 Democrats joined Republicans in supporting it.

Those 10 Democrats were Cindy Axne (IA-03), Andre Carson (IN-07), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Josh Harder (CA-10), Dan Lipinski (IL-03), Collin Peterson (MN-07), David Scott (GA-13), Norma Torres (CA-35), and Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02).

However, not every nuclear-weapons-related vote was a win for arms control. Two amendments from Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) went down, as I wrote on Thursday.

The first was an attempt to restore an independent study of options to extend the lifespan of the Minuteman III missile to 2050 in order to reduce spending on the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) being developed to replace it. Studies have estimated that this new ICBM will cost $100 billion. This study was in the original version of the FY 2020 NDAA, although Republicans, with pro-weapon Democrats, succeeded at stripping it out.

Unfortunately, that coalition succeeded again today, as the amendment failed 164 to 264. 162 Democrats, 1 Republican [Tom Massie (KY-04)], and Republican-turned-Independent Justin Amash (MI-03) voted for it. 68 Democrats joined 196 Republicans in voting it down.

Here are the 68 Democrats:

His second amendment reduced funding for the refurbishment of the W80 nuclear warhead. Last year, National Nuclear Security Administration said that they would only need $714 million for this; this year, they claim they need $900 million. The amendment would give NNSA only the $714 million and redirect the rest of the funds to the NNSA’s nuclear nonproliferation accounts.

The amendment failed 198 to 229. Massie and Amash were now joined by Chris Roy (TX-21). On the Democratic side, 195 voted for it, and 35 voted against it.

Here are the 35:

The Bad & the Ugly

Refusing the Cut the Pentagon’s Slush Fund

Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Ro Khanna (CA-17) put forth an amendment to cut $16.8 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which functions as a slush fund for the Pentagon. The amendment would have reduced the fund to its FY 2019 level.

It failed 115 to 307. 112 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 1 Independent (Justin Amash) voted for it, and 120 Democrats and 187 Republicans voted against it.

The 2 Republicans were Tom Massie (KY-04) and Ted Yoho (FL-03).

Of the 112 Democrats, one was non-voting delegate Gregorio Sablan of the Northern Mariana Islands. Here are the other 111 (they — and Sablan — should be commended):

Of note, only two of the representatives who voted for it are from swing districts — New Hampshire’s Pappas and Kuster.

Refusing to End Indefinite Military Detention

Justin Amash (MI-03) offered an amendment to eliminate indefinite military detention of any person detained under AUMF authority in the U.S., territories, or possessions by providing immediate transfer to trial and proceedings by a court established under Article III of the Constitution of the United states or by an appropriate State court. (Think: Guantanamo.)

It failed 187 to 236. Joining Amash were 182 Democrats and 4 Republicans. 186 Republicans and 50 Democrats voted against it.

The 4 Republicans were Morgran Griffith (VA-09), Tom Massie (KY-03), Scott Tipton (CO-03), and Ted Yoho (FL-03).

Among the 50 Democrats was non-voting delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.

Here are the other 49:

Failing to Stand up against Trump’s Manufactured Border Crisis

Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) offered an amendment to prevent DOD facilities from being used to house or detain unaccompanied migrant children.

It failed 198 to 223. 197 Democrats and 1 Republican — John Carter (TX-31), who represents the Austin suburbs — voted for it. 34 Democrats joined Republicans to defeat it.

Here are the 34:

Similarly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) offered an amendment to prohibit Trump from deploying troops on the southern border if the purpose of this deployment is to enforce immigration law.

It failed 179 to 241, with one Democrat — Dan Lipinski (IL-03) — voting present. Amash joined 178 Democrats in voting for it. 52 Democrats and 189 Republicans voted against it.

Here are the 52 Democrats:

AOC also filed an amendment to prohibit Trump from using the authorized funds to detain undocumented immigrants in Department of Defense facilities. To quote AOC from the House floor, “ One of the central aspects of the crisis at our border is that the administration is asking agencies and departments that are unprepared to house and detain refugees and asylum seekers when that is simply not what they are trained or resourced to do.”

It failed 173 to 245. 171 Democrats, joined by Amash and Carter, voted for it. 58 Democrats joined 187 Republicans to vote against it.

Here are the 58 Democrats:

Jonathan Cohn

Written by

Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.

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