The White House hit back Tuesday at a House Republican proposal to limit the size of the White House national security council to gain leverage in disputes with the president over military policy.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the suggestion floated by House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican, is hypocritical. He said Congress “doesn’t seem like they’re at all prepared to pass a budget for our military this year” and has refused for two years to consider an authorization of military force against the Islamic State terrorist group.
“All of that makes clear there are too many members of Congress that don’t take seriously their responsibility to engage in a legitimate debate about policies that are critical to our national security,” Mr. Earnest said.
Because the plan to limit the size of the NSC likely wouldn’t take effect until a new administration takes over next year, Mr. Earnest observed, “It certainly makes me think that Republicans in Congress aren’t too bullish about the prospects of a Republican succeeding President Obama.”
He also said White House national security adviser Susan E. Rice has “shrunk” the size of the NSC by about 10 percent in the past 18 months.
“That’s based on her own initiative,” he said. “This is something that … we’re already focused on here.”
Republicans are considering attaching an amendment on the NSC to a defense policy bill to gain more leverage over the White House in disputes over military policy, believing that Mr. Obama has too often ignored the advice of military planners in favor of political considerations.
Mr. Thornberry plans to offer an amendment to the defense authorization bill to cap the size of the National Security Council. The bill also could subject the council’s head to congressional confirmation — a process that would have presented enormous difficulties for Ms. Rice after her role initially trying to explain the murders of four Americans in Benghazi in 2012 as the result of a spontaneous attack by Muslims irate about an anti-Islamic film produced in the U.S.
The proposal has surfaced in the wake of criticism from Mr. Obama’s former defense secretaries — Robert M. Gates, Leon E. Panetta and Chuck Hagel — that their counsel of the president was often blocked by an inner circle of less-experienced White House officials.
A congressional aide said Mr. Thornberry was weighing the cap for NSC staff but said it should be below 400, believed to be the current size of the agency that advises the president on a wide range of national security issues. A White House official said the NSC staff is below 400 employees.
Mr. Earnest ridiculed suggestions that the NSC staff should be capped at 50.
“The staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee is larger than that,” he said. “That seems like a rather curious apportionment of resources when you consider the important work that is done at the National Security Council every day.”
The White House spokesman also noted opposition in Congress to another round of military base closures, a development that is typical as lawmakers in both parties try to protect interests in their districts.
“These are base closures that the Department of Defense assesses would have a positive impact on our national security, because it would allow for the more efficient deployment of military resources around the country,” Mr. Earnest said. “But Republicans, and some Democrats, probably, have voiced some opposition to those reforms.”
Noting the opposition to the base closures and the other stalled defense measures, Mr. Earnest said, “I’m surprised to hear that some of them [lawmakers] are seeking more authority over those decisions that they have, thus far, refused to make.”
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