Cyber Command

I learned something about the military command structure as a result of reviewing the most recent memorandum. I’m sure most of us have heard of CENTCOM, but now I know more what it is. Various command operations are designated “unified” under central command because they call for cooperation of several or all of the armed forces branches.

Yesterday, the Cyber Command unit was designated as a new unified command. That makes sense in our current world of cyber activity. I suspect McMaster and Kelly were key players in instigating this change.

Official Title and Link: Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense

Memorandum dated August 18, 2017

Two Actions August 15

Yesterday two official actions were taken by POTUS 45. One was a routine continuation of past actions dating to 2001 and the other was an executive order regarding infrastructure. The latter was to be the focus of his press conference and intended to be the story that dominated the news cycle.

That did not happen because he “went rogue” and proved again who he really is.

Official Titles and Links:

Memorandum and Executive Order dated August 15, 2017

Signing Statements

The occasion of the signing of the “Russia sanctions” legislation after some bluster to the contrary, was a reminder that I need to, at least occasionally, check for presidential signing statements attached to signed legislation.

I have already written about the first signing statement. Since then there has been only one other before August 2nd, when POTUS 45 actually signed two statements on the same bill!

I’ll take them in order. On June 6 a brief signing statement was attached to the DHS Stop Asset and Vehicle Excess Act. It essentially says in the law Congress exceeded its authority and infringes on the constitutional authority of the president.

There was some speculation among the media about whether or not the president would sign the sanctions bill (H.R. 3364) because of his apparent close relationships with Russia. In the end he signed the bill, but in an unusual action he attached two separate signing statements. I am wondering if when the Government Publishing Office publishes this online there will only be one official version, because they are similar with the typical “there are unconstitutional provisions in the law” objection.

What I missed in most of the media reports was the bill including Iran and Korea as well as more rigorous Russia sanctions.

Official Titles and Links to statements attached to H.R. 3364:

Signing Statements dated August 2, 2017

Infrastructure Council

The most recent executive order is unique enough that some review and comment are appropriate. Establishing a special council to focus on infrastructure is not a particular surprise, given the call by many for more infrastructure spending. But, some of the particulars of the order are worthy of note.

  1. It will be housed in the Department of Commerce and is to be made up of no more than 15 members all appointed by the president as representatives of various identified infrastructure sectors.
  2. Quoting from the executive order: “Sec. 4. Mission of Council. The Council shall study the scope and effectiveness of, and make findings and recommendations to the President regarding, Federal Government funding, support, and delivery of infrastructure projects in several sectors, including surface transportation, aviation, ports and waterways, water resources, renewable energy generation, electricity transmission, broadband, pipelines, and other such sectors as determined by the Council.In pursuing its mission, the Council shall make findings and recommendations concerning the following:(a) prioritizing the Nation’s infrastructure needs;

    (b) accelerating pre-construction approval processes;

    (c) developing funding and financing options capable of generating new infrastructure investment over the next 10 years;

    (d) identifying methods to increase public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects, including appropriate statutory or regulatory changes;

    (e) identifying best practices in and opportunities to improve procurement methods, grant procedures, and infrastructure delivery systems; and

    (f) promoting advanced manufacturing and infrastructure-related technological innovation.”

  3. The ultimate result is to be a report by the council to the president.
  4. The end date of the council is December 31, 2018.

Following are some of my thoughts:

I find item “b” above to be interesting in that it is consistent with so many of the actions of this administration to reduce or eliminate standard review processes.

For some time now, various reports in the media have focused on the high probability that infrastructure funding, if it is forth-coming at all, would benefit his business cronies by requiring public-private partnerships. Item “d” above confirms this as a strategy.

With all the difficulties Congress is having to pass bills this session, it remains to be seen if any kind of infrastructure funding is passed and appropriated, but establishment of this council implies the administration is unlikely to propose anything specific until sometime after the 2018 elections.

Official Title and Link:

Presidential Executive Order Establishing a Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure

Executive Order dated July 19, 2017

Potentially Massive Change in War Powers

[Ed. Note: I’m stepping a little out of my normal practice of reviewing and commenting only on official executive actions with this post, because when I saw the brief news report (see link below) it occurred to me if the bill passes as amended by the House Appropriations Committee, this president will have much less freedom to “authorize and fight wars” than either of his two most recent predecessors.]

What am I talking about?

Today, according to a report published by The Week (posted 12:30 p.m. ET), the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill of 2017 proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee, CA, that repeals the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) (Public Law 107-40) that was passed by Congress in the immediate wake of September 11, 2001. That law has been the basis for all war actions since it was enacted – used by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama to execute military actions in several places around the world. In effect, it was congressional authorization to use military force against terrorist activities, a.k.a. the “War on Terror”. Both the original law and the current amendment (photo of it is in The Week article cited above) are quite brief, so it does not take long to see what this is about.

Based on a Tweet by Rep. Lee, she appeared to be surprised it passed the full committee. The bill, along with this amendment, will be debated openly on the floor of the House of Representatives. Just getting this to the full House is a major change with enormous consequences.

At the time the AUMF passed, I believed it was a colossal overreaction to the 9-11 events and I am extremely pleased that at least the House Appropriations Committee is ready to reclaim the power of Congress to declare war instead of abdicating it to the president. It is long overdue to require a full, congressional debate before sending military forces into any kind of war.

The prospect of this law being repealed is so unexpected I’m having trouble wrapping my head around what the full ramifications would be.

What are the chances it will pass the full House? Will the Senate go along? If it reaches the president’s desk, will he veto the whole defense funding package just to keep that provision?

What precipitated the Appropriations Committee action to approve the repeal amendment? According to my count, the committee membership has 30 Republicans and 22 Democrats, (and of course, chaired by a Republican) which means the Republicans could easily have kept the amendment from passing. Does this mean even Republicans are concerned about this president having that level of power? Does the escalation in Syria have anything to do with this committee vote?

So far, I have not found online a breakdown of who on the committee voted for/against the amendment, but I hope it will be available at some point. It would be very interesting to see just who supports the repeal.

Needless to say, I will be watching for other news reports about this important amendment and its progress through the bill’s approval process.

Update June 30, 2017:

Two items to add: 1) Representative Lee was the only person to vote against the original AUMF in 2001, and 2) the vote by the Appropriations Committee yesterday was a voice vote and it passed nearly unanimously. From the video clip I saw of the vote, it sounded like one faint no vote voiced.

Change to Foreign Visitor Processing

Anytime this POTUS signs an order to change a previous president’s executive order, my curiosity is piqued, because so much of the public rhetoric of this administration makes clear the intention is to undo as much as possible what President Obama did.

Even though this executive order is very brief, it becomes quite significant for anyone applying for a visa to simply visit the United States. This has nothing to do with immigration, only foreign visitors.

All the order does is change one subsection of Section 2 of the original executive order and authorizes the executive branch officers to make changes to policies and procedures as a result.

Following is the full text of the sub-section of the January, 2012 executive order being deleted:

(ii) ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions;

I am speculating now, but it appears to me to recognize the fact that the State Department is so understaffed that is would not be possible to deliver on the original directive. If that is the case, what concerns me most is the high probability that the dismantling of the government (long a goal of presidential advisor, Steve Bannon) is continuing apace.

Official Title:

Presidential Executive Order Amending Executive Order 13597

Executive Order signed June 21, 2017.

Cuba and Father’s Day

Yesterday two actions were posted – one routine (Father’s Day Proclamation) and the other not so routine. On the other hand, maybe we will need to start considering the actions taken to undo accomplishments of the Obama era as routine, because we are seeing so many of them.

The controversial action of yesterday was the rollback of some of the provisions in the Obama agreement with Cuba to move toward more normalized relations between the two countries.

In several of the media reports, Marco Rubio (2nd generation Cuban American) is mentioned as a key player behind this action. Even though the memorandum cites two memoranda of President Obama, I find it somewhat interesting this action is just a memorandum rather than an executive order, that might have more legal effect. Perhaps it is because this memorandum is largely about making changes to regulations that require a long process of public reaction time before going into effect.

No matter, the intended goals of this action are not truly in the best interest of the United States or the Cuban people as it claims. Many will be negatively affected by the return of more stringent restrictions on travel, for example.

Official Titles:

Memorandum and Proclamation signed June 16, 2017