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Senators introduce legislation to codify NSC membership

congressU.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced legislation that will clarify the permanent membership of the National Security Council (NSC) to better ensure that decisions affecting the national security of the nation are not clouded by political calculations.

The legislation addresses significant concerns following President Trump’s reorganization of the NSC, which diminished the permanent roles of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence and extended NSC membership to a top campaign and political advisor.

“President Trump’s reorganization of the NSC is deeply troubling, and it reflects a misguided desire to place political considerations above the valued and sober advice of any president’s most experienced military and intelligence advisors. Presidents from Truman to Obama have utilized the guidance of the NSC to make important foreign policy and national security decisions,” said Sen. Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Respected national security voices in both parties have pointed out that it is unprecedented for the president’s chief political advisor to be made part of a process that should be above politics. Ensuring that the NSC’s recommendations are made by knowledgeable professionals who can provide objective analysis is imperative at this time.”

On Saturday, President Trump issued National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) 2, which outlined how he would organize and use his National Security Council. In the memorandum, he elevated a senior political advisor to be a core member of the influential Principals Committee, while also removing the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as permanent members of the Principals Committee unless issues pertaining to their responsibilities or expertise are to be discussed.

“Placing a political advisor on the National Security Council, on par with the Secretaries of Defense, State and Homeland Security, is a completely unacceptable infringement of politics into national security. Our bill makes it clear that the president should listen to our foreign policy and national security leaders, not political aides, to keep Americans safe,” Sen. Feinstein said.

“President Trump’s decision to elevate a political operative to a permanent member of the National Security Council (NSC) and demote intelligence and military experts demonstrates his misguided approach to national security. The NSC restructuring is a fundamentally flawed political ploy that it guarantees that President Trump’s top political strategist will participate in every decision-making meeting on national security issues, including those pertaining military operations, and does not provide the same guarantee to the military and intelligence community,” said Sen. Harris, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “This is an incredibly dangerous precedent, and Congress must take action to address it in order to defend best interests of the American people, our troops, and our interests overseas.”

“President Trump has shown that he trusts the former leader of the far-right website Breitbart News Steve Bannon on decisions of national security more than our highest-ranking military leader and the director of the intelligence community,” said Sen. Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. “This legislation would ensure that the experts are in the room when it comes to important national security and foreign policy assessments. The President owes it the American people to do what’s best to keep them safe, rather than what’s going to affect his ratings.”

“National security decisions must be formed and advised by those with experience.  Removing the certainty that the top military officer and top intelligence official will always be in the room in exchange for the guaranteed presence of a political advisor is nothing short of bizarre and dangerous.  Politics have no place inside the National Security Council, let alone politics that condone hate, misinformation and intolerance,” said Sen. Leahy. “Throughout our history we have strived to reject these assaults on American values.  I’m proud to join this legislation to stop this unprecedented and dangerous move from ever happening again.”

“The National Security Council should be a place for the President to receive honest and expert advice on matters of national security, not an extension of the President’s campaign arm. It’s extremely alarming to see the NSC politicized, and even more so when the political advisor in question harbors dangerous and extreme views that have already endangered our national security through his authorship of President Trump’s Muslim ban. Congress needs to step in and save the NSC from becoming the latest wing of the RNC,” Sen. Merkley said.

The Strengthening Oversight of National Security Act will amend the National Security Act of 1947 to clarify membership at the senior advisory level of the NSC, ensuring that national security experts are the ones crafting national security policy. It does so by setting out in law limits to membership.

  • The bill amends the National Security Act to specify the composition of the National Security Council. In addition to the current statutorily designated NSC members, the bill adds the Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • The bill further establishes that the composition of the cabinet-level interagency forum for policy consideration and decision making to support the NSC will reflect the membership of the NSC with flexibility to add other Senate-confirmed members. Any exceptions must be one-time actions and notified to Congress within 24 hours.
  • The bill requires the Consent of the Congress to add any non-Senate confirmed official except the National Security Advisor and Deputies, Homeland Security Advisor and Deputies, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, Counsel, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and the Assistant to the Vice President for National Security. The composition limitation applies to members and attendees.

A copy of the bill text is available here.



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