Republicans try to inject Afghanistan oversight into annual defense bill

Two days after the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, House Armed Services Committee Republicans plan to force Democrats to vote on ramping up congressional oversight of the region.

Their vehicle for this is a major defense spending bill. Republicans plan to offer over 50 amendments related to Afghanistan to the National Defense Authorization Act Wednesday, said Congressman Mike Rogers, the ranking member on the committee. The amendments would require the administration to disclose its plan to evacuate Americans still in Afghanistan and provide an inventory of the equipment left behind in the country, said Congressman Mike Gallagher, who sits on the committee.

Gallagher also said Republicans would like to approve an amendment stating the U.S. will not recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government, although such a measure would likely fall under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Republicans have tried other avenues to increase congressional oversight of the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan War, but they’ve been thwarted by Democrats, who control the House and Senate.

Before the withdrawal of troops was finished, Gallagher introduced a bill that would have required troops to remain in Afghanistan until all Americans were removed, but Democratic leadership did not allow it to reach the floor. Gallagher on Tuesday introduced a modified bill that would instead require disclosures and commitments similar to the amendments being offered Wednesday, but it was again kept from the floor by Democrats..

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that Republicans plan to force Gallagher’s new bill to the floor with a discharge petition, which would enable them to bypass Democratic leadership if they can garner support from a majority of the House. The petition, which is expected to be led by Congressman Brian Mast, Republican of Florida, would require signatures from at least six Democrats. Because of the rules governing discharge petitions, the earliest Republicans could force a vote on the bill would be after Congress’ return in late September.

However, Wednesday’s Armed Services Committee’s annual NDAA markup meeting could offer early signs of whether some Democrats could join the discharge petition.

“I’m hopeful. Behind closed doors, a lot of my Democratic colleagues have expressed similar sentiments. We’ll see where the rubber meets the road in committee votes today,” Gallagher said.

The 50 amendments on Afghanistan are still a fraction of the number that have been introduced to the defense spending bill. Republicans have offered over 700 amendments to the next year’s NDAA, Rogers said. Debate will likely continue well into the evening. Rogers plans to offer an amendment that would raise the Pentagon’s budget by $25 billion, a measure the Senate Armed Services Committee approved last month with bipartisan support.