Republicans Tout ‘a More Conservative Direction’ in Defense-Policy Bill

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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry gets underway at Yokosuka, Japan, to support MALABAR 2021 exercises and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, August 23, 2021. (Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Justin Stack/US Navy)

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) sailed through the House of Representatives last night, but 75 Republicans voted against the annual defense-policy measure. For the most part, they expressed concern that the bill makes women eligible for the draft and expands diversity, equity, and inclusion training in the military.

Nevertheless, the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest caucus of House conservatives, sees reason for optimism in what it deems unprecedented policy victories included in the legislation. The group’s members don’t think it’s a perfect bill, but they made the most of what they had — and achieved some tangible results.

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Representative Jim Banks, the group’s chairman, told National Review that RSC members were able to get some crucial amendments into the legislation. “This year the RSC has worked to shape the NDAA in a more conservative direction beginning with the House Armed Services Committee process all the way to the floor. I can say that, as a fact, the final product we’re voting on today is a better bill because of Republican Study Committee’s hard-fought efforts to improve it,” he said.

In an internal RSC document obtained by National Review, Banks’s team detailed the measures for which conservatives successfully fought, as well as those that their Democratic counterparts were able to block.

In many cases, Democrats were willing to get onboard with RSC proposals that scrutinize how President Biden’s foreign policy emboldens a number of U.S. adversaries. Those amendments require reports on how Russia benefits from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the extent to which U.S. sanctions relief has helped Iran build up its military, and how sanctions relief boosted Syria’s Assad regime and the Taliban.

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The Nord Stream 2 provision makes sense in light of the bipartisan outrage at the Biden administration’s willingness to let the project move forward. The RSC reporting proposal complements an amendment put forward by Representatives Michael McCaul and Marcy Kaptur imposes new mandatory sanctions on those involved in constructing the pipeline, and it eliminates a waiver the Biden administration used to shield the Nord Stream 2 corporate entity and its CEO from sanctions.

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But other successful RSC measures are a bit more surprising, since they’ll likely make it more difficult for the Biden administration to follow through on its priorities. An amendment by Representative Nicole Malliotakis, for example, would require the administration to compile a report on “all malign operations by Iran conducted on United States soil,” including attempted terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and cyber attacks. As the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Behnam Ben Taleblu put it to me: “It’s imperative that once these operations are known and exposed, the regime is made to pay a price.” That might complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.

Unsurprisingly, however, Democrats voted down or blocked a number of other proposals. Measures to potentially designate the Taliban as a state sponsor of terrorism, prohibit the Defense Department from recognizing the Taliban-controlled government for Afghanistan, and block Russia and China from selling the group arms failed.

The RSC document also points out that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks blocked a bipartisan amendment to remove an existing waiver that might now allow the Taliban to buy oil from Iran. Meeks’s rationale, according to RSC, is that this would limit a future administration’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance.

As the minority party in Congress, Republicans didn’t get everything they want, but conservatives can take comfort in more than a few of the changes that made it into the bill. RSC staffers are working with the Senate side to preserve these amendments in a markup session that will take place in the coming weeks.

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