don't call

Meme-busting: Trump has not appointed Bannon to the National Security Council

You may have seen a call to action — stop Steve Bannon from being appointed to the National Security Council by opposing his confirmation hearing — on Twitter or Facebook.

It’s not true.

  1. President Trump has not appointed Bannon to the National Security Council.
  2. Bannon is not the subject of a pending Senate confirmation committee.

Please, don’t call any Senate Committee or Senator and demand that Bannon not be appointed to the NSC.

IF you feel the need to call DC, then your message should be that you believe a political operative should not be a voting member of an NSC committee.  That partisan politics should not play a part in national security issues. (There’s a script near the bottom of this post. And an even more important action you can take!)

Calling Senators about a non-issue only poisons the well for future objections. It’s not unlike being the boy who cried wolf, but there are thousands (millions?) calling.

I feel like I’ve been transported in time to a year ago, with excited, enthusiastic and well-meaning newbies at the Washington State caucuses causing things to take longer than they should simply because they didn’t understand existing processes or even Robert’s Rules of Order.

And news organizations aren’t helping, either: they’ve misstated presidential memoranda as executive orders and they misstated this, initially, and have done diddly to clean up after themselves. Plus they seem to exercise no rein on their columnists, many of whom froth like veterans of agitprop.

Read on for the detailed explanation. With sources.

1. Headlines to the contrary, President Trump did not appoint Bannon to the NSC

Congress created the NSC in 1947 and amended the enabling legislation in 1949. Congress created the body and delineated its membership. But it cannot force the president to follow its recommendations.

Trump appointed Bannon to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. Not the NSC. The law is clear that an appointment to the NSC would require Senate confirmation. But the Principals Committee is not the NSC.

Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe told Snopes:

[N]othing in the Constitution or in any Act of Congress makes membership in what has been called the Principals Committee, which is formally and structurally not part of the National Security Council but an advisory group hitched to the Council by an invisible cord, a position that mandates the Senate’s advice and consent.

This appointment is unprecedented in at least two ways:

  • Bannon is not a sitting member of the NSC and
  • He is a partisan with no experience in national security.

But this appointment does not make him a member of the National Security Council. It may sound like splitting hairs, but splitting hairs (finding loopholes) is what lawyers do.

NSC Principals Committee

Members of the NSC Principals Committee, 2001-2017.

To illustrate how out-of-the-ordinary this appointment is, look no further than the prior Republican Administration:

Former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said last year that President George W. Bush instructed his top political adviser, Karl Rove, never to appear at a National Security Council meeting.

Legislation codifies NSC members. It does not codify committee memberships.

From LawfareBlog:

The Principals Committee is merely a mechanism that presidents have used to organize how the NSC operates, but are permitted to change or disband at will. Indeed, every president since Bush 41 has customized the Principals Committee to meet their needs and preferences.

So, no, it’s NOT, prima facie, an illegal appointment. (Are you a lawyer? Are you quoting someone who is a lawyer? Because Senate and House committees employ lawyers.)

There are a lot of people (mostly analysts, a handful of lawyers, some blowhards) arguing that Bannon can’t sit on the Principals Committee without being an NSC member. There are a lot of other people pointing out there is no requirement of NSC membership. There are probably a handful, on the far right, who are arguing that this is not unprecedented. I believe the chart above shows that it is for this century, at least.

Those little “verified” checkmarks carry a lot of weight/confidence, don’t they?

Well, it only means that a person is who they say that they are. It does NOT make them an expert on everything under the universe. <visualize sad face emoji of choice here>

Yes, it is possible that a Senate Committee is asking for citizen feedback on Bannon’s appointment to the Principals Committee.

I find this over-the-weekend request hard to believe, given that the committees are run by Republicans. But anything is possible. And allegedly, this call to action comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center (which has not answered my “did you ask people to do this?” tweet inquiry).

If you must call, object to Bannon’s appointment to the Principals Committee. Not that you think Bannon has a full seat on the NSC.

Oh. And the NSC? All it can do is advise the president. Who has zero obligation to listen to it. More on that in another post.

 

2. Bannon is not the subject of a pending Senate confirmation committee, but there are two bills about NSC membership that need action

He can’t be the subject of confirmation, because he isn’t being appointed to the NSC. But even if he were subject to confirmation, there are no hearings scheduled. Nor announcement that there will be hearings.

Indirectly, however, Bannon is the raison d’etre of the Strengthening Oversight of National Security Act (S291); Senate Select Committee On Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced this bill on Thursday. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is a bill co-sponsor. Other co-sponsors include Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

Over in the House, on Wednesday, Rep. Rick Larson (D-WA), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, introduced a similar (but much more limited) bill, HR 793, the Ensuring Sound Military and Intelligence Advice Act (pdf). The bill has 16 co-sponsors.

Neither bill has been placed on a committee calendar.

Neither bill has bi-partisan support at this time.

If you want to do something, contact your U.S. Senators and Representative and ask them to co-sponsor this legislation.

Sample script:

Hello, my name is ::::: and I am a resident of ::::
I’m calling because I am concerned that Steve Bannon–a person with no public service, government service, or intelligence background–has been placed on the National Security Council Principals Committee. This looks like a way to bypass the legislative requirement that NSC members be vetted by Congress. I would appreciate your co-signing [S291 if you’re talking to a Senator’s office, HR 793 if you’re talking to your Representative’s office].
Thank you.

Or give them a public shout-out (and a private one, too) if they co-sponsor.

Both the Strengthening Oversight of National Security Act and the Ensuring Sound Military and Intelligence Advice Act put limits on NSC membership.

The Senate bill specifically requires Congressional approve to add any non-Senate confirmed official other than the National Security Advisor and Deputies, Homeland Security Advisor and Deputies, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, Counsel, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and the Assistant to the Vice President for National Security. The composition limitation applies to both members and attendees.

Here’s how the co-sponsorship process works in the House. And the corollary bill sponsorship process for the Senate.

Please pause before acting; resist the urge to do something – anything – just because

Please pause.

Take a breath.

And, as a general rule, call ONLY your Senators and Representatives for whatever issue you are concerned about. Because

    1. Your successful phone call means that a constituent got a busy signal
    2. Constituent voices carry more weight As They Should
    3. This is a marathon not a sprint. Pace yourself, please.

Are there exceptions?

Maybe for leadership in committees. But not for specific votes on the floor.

pause
Originally posted 5 February at 11.11 am
Updated 6 February at 9:35 am

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