Last week’s election results tipped control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats. How will the new leadership in Congress affect America’s national security policy? Katie Bo Williams at Defense One has a few predictions:
Democratic control of the lower chamber is likely to reinforce the current momentum towards cuts to the defense budget. Smith has said that this year’s $716 billion budget is “too high”; in a surprise, Trump recently ordered a $33 billion cut in defense spending for 2020.
But although there may be broad consensus over the need for topline cuts, the new majority in the House will be able to use the power of the purse to try to influence policy on a more granular level. The Armed Services Committees scored big political wins for Trump under the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and current House chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas; in control of the House, Democrats may be able to force compromises on controversial issues like the Space Force.
In other ways, Congress will remain limited in its ability to shift U.S. foreign policy, inherently an executive branch function. The House has far fewer powers to directly influence the U.S.’s internal affairs than does the Senate, which can approve treaties and confirm presidential nominees.
Analysts expect lawmakers across both chambers to press the administration to enforce existing sanctions on Russia, and perhaps even seek stiffer penalties.
The midterms have reshaped both Armed Services Committees in a way that could elevate more liberal voices within the Democratic caucus on defense issues.
In the Senate, Democrats lost several key members of the panel, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Joe Donnelly, the top Democrat on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
But in the House, the switch will move up now-freshman Rep. Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat from California—and sometimes bête noir of party leadership—with a fierce focus on ending U.S. support the war in Yemen. He attracted more than 50 sponsors, including Smith, for his War Powers Resolution on Yemen.
Democrats could also select one of their caucus’s fiercest anti-war advocates, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., for a leadership position. Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 authorization for war against al Qaeda, has thrown her hat in the ring for the No. 5 spot: caucus chairman. (She does not sit on the Armed Services Committee.)
Then there are the wild cards: a swath of new members are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who could jostle for seats on the panel.