Senate Transportation Committee rejects Defend the Guard bill

Jan. 31—CHEYENNE — Tensions were high among lawmakers late Monday night before the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee voted unanimously to reject a “Defend the Guard” bill.

Senate File 119 stated that the U.S. Constitution vests “in the Congress the exclusive power to declare war. By abdicating the power to the executive branch, the United States Congress has failed to follow the United States Constitution and the intent of the founders.”

“The Defend the Guard Act aligns the governor’s authority to protect Wyoming’s National Guard and citizen soldiers from participating in undeclared wars with a purpose and clear language of the U.S. Constitution,” said Sen. Bob Ide, R-Casper, the sponsor of the bill. “Absent a congressional declaration of war, the governor shall withhold the National Guard troops in Wyoming from being released into federal service for the purposes of waging undeclared war.”

He told lawmakers if there is some national interest in a foreign land that is worthy of sending uniformed men and women to go to defend, then it is worth “our elected leaders putting their name on it with a declaration of war, and then to provide the full backing and support of the United States of America to ensure that we fight and win with a clearly defined victory.”

Ide was joined by co-sponsors Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie. They were all questioned by veteran Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, on the difference between an Authorization for Use of Military Force and a declaration of war, as the legal standing of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria were brought into light.

“We had fought a 20-year war that had become multigenerational. I believe many of us don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation, and how endless war is not just on our national finances, but on our national soul,” Andrew said. “Senate File 119 would ensure that the Wyoming National Guard does not participate in open-ended and extra-legal conflicts like these.”

Andrew debated with Boner on the “substantive difference” between declaring war on a country and sending military forces. Boner asked him if the Authorization for Use of Force in Iraq and Afghanistan wasn’t legal, and as the conversation continued, Andrew said that “it seemed self-explanatory to him, but maybe not to you.”

Wyoming Military Department attorney Chris Smith represented the Guard, and said he was against the bill both as a retired member of the military and as a current representative of the Military Department. He said every action since Vietnam was under the law of the land, following the passage of the War Powers Act to create a methodology for Congress to authorize the use of military force. He noted there were other legal ways for the Guard to be mobilized.

Smith also recognized nearly all of the major weapons and equipment the Wyoming Guard are federally owned. He said the latest inventory revealed approximately $880 million worth of equipment is loaned out, spanning from Blackhawk helicopters to rocket systems.

He said the president can take it all away under the Uniformed Services Code, and $110 million annually comes into the…

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