Biden Signs The National Defense Authorization Act Into Law

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Arjun Singh Contributor
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President Joe Biden on Friday signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023-24 into law, according to a White House press release.

The NDAA is an important legislative item passed every year by Congress to authorize several key national security programs, such as the Department of Energy’s maintenance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, intelligence gathering and certain diplomatic activities. On Friday, Biden signed the bill at The White House, though he issued a signing statement indicating his disagreement with many of its provisions. (RELATED: Wuhan Lab, Fentanyl And Nuclear Weapons: Defense Bill Takes Aim At China, But Leaves Out Key Restrictions)

“While I am pleased to support the critical objectives of the NDAA, I note that certain provisions of the Act raise concerns,” Biden wrote in the signing statement. Principal among his objections was a provision that prevented the government from transferring detainees from the U.S. military’s prison facilities at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to foreign countries or to the United States, which was first added in the NDAA of 2011 amid attempts to close the facility by then-President Barack Obama, which Biden has continued.

“[T]hese provisions could make it difficult to comply with the final judgment of a court that has directed the release of a detainee on writ of habeas corpus, including by constraining the flexibility of the executive branch…in delicate negotiations with foreign countries over the potential transfer of detainees,” Biden indicated. Many of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay are high-ranking alien terrorists, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, a Pakistani national and member of Al-Qaeda who was the “principal architect” of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to the 9/11 Commission report.

Biden also expressed constitutional concerns that certain provisions of the NDAA would require him to disclose highly classified information to Congress, which would compromise U.S. intelligence methods and sources. “The Constitution vests the President with the authority to prevent the disclosure of such highly sensitive information in order to discharge his responsibility to protect the national security,” Biden wrote, indicating that he would only disclose information to Congress as needed.

The version of the NDAA signed by Biden represents a compromise between the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate, which disagreed over the inclusion of several conservative policy measures by House Republicans. Many of these were not included in the final bill reported by the conference committee, which prompted opposition from the House Freedom Caucus and led 73 Republicans to vote against it.

Many Republican objections centered on one of the most controversial provisions of the bill, which was the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act(FISA), which enables the U.S. government to conduct intelligence gathering on foreign sources but has been strongly criticized by conservatives for its alleged abuse by the FBI in surveilling the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.

“With the National Defense Authorization Act, [in the House] you ended up with 310 or 311 votes from the middle. You lost the more conservative elements on the Republican side, you lost the more progressive elements on the Democratic side, but you still ended up with a very healthy majority of [over] 300 votes,” said Mark Harkins, a senior fellow at The Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University to the DCNF.

“Our bill should signal to China, Russia, and others that we will not accept a world where America does not have the best fighting force,” wrote Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to the DCNF. “While I would have preferred to send the President a substantially larger proposed investment in our industrial base, he now should approve the monumental investments Congress intends to make in our service members, warships, submarines, aircraft, and technology.”

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