Senate checks President’s authority to call up Guard

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(Host) The U.S. Senate has agreed to repeal a law that gave the president authority to call up the National Guard and use the military for law enforcement.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, the provision was adopted just last year and quickly drew bipartisan opposition, especially from governors.

(Sneyd) The new policy was tucked into a broader bill that sets national defense priorities.

Last year’s amendment gave the president expanded authority to “federalize” the National Guard and to use all of the military in law enforcement.

Senator Patrick Leahy worked with Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri to repeal the change.

Leahy says he believes there was too much potential for abusing the provision.

(Leahy) “The potential is the president could simply say look I’ve decided I’m going to handle the borders different than the Congress says, different than the various states say. I’m just going to take away the national guard from the states along the border and I’m going to, in effect, set up my own presidential guard. You’d have no say over the matter.”

(Sneyd) Governors were unanimously opposed to the provision.

They say they recognize the president’s authority to call up the Guard for national defense.

But Governor Jim Douglas and his colleagues argue that the president has no role in using the Guard for domestic emergencies.

(Douglas) “That erodes the traditional, longstanding authority of governors, which goes back centuries, to be the commanders in chief of their national guards whenever there’s an emergency within the state.”

(Sneyd) Congress agreed. Final negotiations were just completed on a bill that repeals the provision.

Leahy says senators also took the opportunity to give the National Guard a little more clout at the Pentagon.

(Leahy) “We put in there provisions to give the National Guard more bureaucratic muscle in the Department of Defense. … In this case we’ve made the National Guard a far more important, a far more independent, a far more powerful arm of the states.”

(Sneyd) Leahy says the National Guard has been operating under “a 19th century organization chart.”

Under the reorganization, the chief of the National Guard is elevated to the rank of four-star general.

That will make him the chief military adviser to the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on National Guard matters.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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