Sen. Rand Paul delays defense bill vote over troop drawdowns

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate vote on a wide-ranging defense policy bill was delayed Thursday after Kentucky Republican Rand Paul objected to the measure, casting the next steps in doubt and raising the slim prospect of a government shutdown if a short-term spending bill caught up in the dispute is not approved by Friday.

Paul said on the Senate floor that he opposes provisions in the defense bill that would limit President Donald Trump’s ability to draw down U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Germany. His objections threatened another must-pass bill, a one-week spending measure that would keep the government open through Dec. 18. The House has passed the stopgap measure, but a government shutdown would occur if the Senate does not act on it by midnight Friday.

Paul said he would drop his objection if GOP leaders allowed a final vote on the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday. Senators from both parties were eager to finish work on the bill this week.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said he thought Paul — who has provoked government shutdowns before — was using the time-crunch for maximum leverage to remove the provision on troop withdrawals.

“I think he’s just trying to figure out ways to derail the bill. And … when you’re in the U.S Senate that’s your prerogative. But most of our people would like to get it done” this week, Thune said.

“His thing is just to delay this and use all the time so it pushes the vote on (the defense bill) into next week, which pushes the override vote” on a possible Trump veto into the following week, Thune said of his fellow Republican, Paul.

A procedural vote on the defense bill was expected Friday, setting the stage for final votes on the defense bill and the stopgap spending measure later in the day.

Paul said he is concerned that the measure on troop deployment “creates 535 commanders-in-chief in Congress” and hampers the president’s ability to deploy troops as he sees fit. Democrats support the measure because they oppose Trump, Paul said, but the amendment would also apply to future presidents, including President-elect Joe Biden.

One amendment, co-sponsored by Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Jason Crow, D-Colo., would block troop withdrawals in Afghanistan unless the Pentagon submits inter-agency reports certifying that the drawdowns would not jeopardize national security. A separate provision pushed by Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney and other lawmakers would limit planned troop withdrawals in Germany.

Paul singled out Cheney by name in a floor speech, saying she and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, share a neoconservative belief in “perpetual war.”

“The philosophy of these people is about war and substantiating war and making sure that it becomes and is perpetual war,” Paul said.

Cheney hit back on Twitter, charging that Paul was “currently holding up passage of the #NDAA, blaming America, and delaying hazardous duty pay to hundreds of thousands of our service members and their families. Inexcusable.”

She added: “Rand and I do have one thing in common, though. We’re both 5’2″ tall.”

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