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Border wall, nuclear weapons to spark partisan fight at defense bill debate

Patrick Kelley, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Adam Smith's first bill as House Armed Services chairman will surely stir contentious debate during the panel's markup Wednesday of the annual Pentagon policy bill, a marathon session that is expected to extend into the early morning hours Thursday.

The chairman's mark -- the Washington Democrat's portion of the massive defense authorization bill -- tees up partisan fights on Guantanamo Bay, nuclear weapons and the border wall. It says nothing on President Donald Trump's proposed Space Force, an issue that Smith said Monday would likely find its way in the bill through a bipartisan amendment.

The bill, which authorizes $733 billion in new defense spending, would discontinue bans put in place by previous defense bills on transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay detention center, save for transfers to Libya, Yemen, Syria and Somalia. The bill would also explicitly disallow new detainees at Guantanamo, including American citizens.

Meanwhile, Smith supports a ban on the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons, a provision that the Strategic Forces Subcommittee included in its version of the bill last week, over Republican objections.

"The chairman feels strongly that the nuclear arsenal is too large, that we spend too much money on legacy weapons systems when we have emerging requirements like cyber, like AI, like space, which aren't getting the kind of focus, that's required," a committee aide said. "He wants us to reevaluate where we're spending money."

The same aide said that Smith never contemplated "taking out a leg of the (nuclear) triad," but instead wants to focus on how to better use the current arsenal.


The most raucous debate could be over Trump's politically divisive southern border wall.

Smith's bill would put a "blanket" ban on the Pentagon using its funds to construct a wall, fence or physical barrier. It also would not authorize any money to backfill fiscal 2019 military construction accounts tapped for the wall.

The chairman's mark would ban the U.S. from transferring F-35 stealth fighters to Turkey if Turkey acquires the Russian-made S -- 400 missile defense system. Turkey operating both weapons systems, as it would like to do, would risk giving the Russian military access to the jets' secret capabilities.

The Senate Armed Services bill includes the same ban. And the Pentagon on Friday told Turkey that if it buys Russian-made missile defense systems, it will be removed from the F-35 joint strike fighter program.


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