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2001 Authorization of Military Force, Guantánamo Restrictions Survive as House Passes Defense Bill

Attempts to wind down trappings of the Bush-era global war on terror were thwarted Wednesday night.

Activists demonstrate in Washington, DC, against the continued operation of the Guantánamo Bay prison on January 21, 2010. (Photo: Witness Against Torture / Bill Ofenloch)

Last minute attempts to wind down trappings of the Bush-era Global War on Terror were thwarted Wednesday night before lawmakers in the House passed the annual defense bill.

An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) put forth by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was defeated in a 285-138 vote. Fifty-seven Democrats joined Republicans to preserve the 15-year-old consent to war.

The Obama administration is currently using the law to justify its ongoing military operations in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State — an entity that did not exist in 2001.

Another measure introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) would have scrapped restrictions on transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States. The House GOP, with the help of 21 Democrats, defeated the amendment 259-163, blocking President Obama’s proposal to close the military prison before he leaves office.

Lawmakers ultimately approved the 2017 NDAA in a 277-147 vote. The bill would authorize $551 billion for Pentagon spending, plus $59 billion for the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund, which supports ongoing US military missions.

The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, citing objections over how the GOP plans to shift $18 billion from the OCO war-fighting budget to prop up the Pentagon’s base budget. In order to sustain the veto, at least in the House, the administration would need to pick up a few more votes in opposition to the bill.

The legislation also includes a 2.1 percent pay increase for soldiers.

An amendment to shrink the size of President Obama’s National Security Council to 100 staffers was also approved during the House proceedings Wednesday; as was a measure to reverse a Pentagon policy that required women to sign up for the draft as part of the department’s effort to open up combat roles to female soldiers.

Many Democrats, including the Ranking Members of the Armed Services Committee, withdrew their support for the bill after Republicans denied a number of votes on other amendments. One proposal not considered would have prevented federal contractors from citing religious freedom to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“They have misused the rules process to avoid votes on women’s equality, labor laws, and taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT individuals, while adding further restrictions on transfers from the Guantanamo detention facility, cutting funds for nuclear nonproliferation, and adopting a range of other highly problematic provisions,” Rep. Smith said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Senate is set to begin consideration of its version of the NDAA next week. Once finished, both chambers will have to work out the differences between the two bills in a conference committee, before finalizing the must-pass defense bill.

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