Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bannon and the NSC - as a journalist, make sure you read the law

Amid all the hand wringing about Steve Bannon and the National Security Council, there has emerged a shorthand (that Bannon is "part of the National Security Council") and a meme (that Bannon somehow will have to undergo Senate confirmation).

Both are ill-advised and remind us again why it is important to read the law


As I understand it, he twas not appointed to the NSC but invited to attend meetings of the principals committee, an interagency working group. The distinction is important.

If you look at the U.S. Code, his position does not actually qualify for appointment to the council, since his is not a secretary or undersecretary (and I don't know of any appointment provision subject to Senate confirmation beyond this). To fit him into those specified categories would be a stretch:

"The Secretaries and Under Secretaries of other executive departments and of the military departments, when appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to serve at his pleasure."

The other members of the NSC specified by law are the president, vice president and secretaries of state, defense and energy. Other people may be invited to attend, but they are not members of NSC just by attendance. Trump's executive order is fairly careful in parsing this out.

The principals committee, on the other hand, as an interagency group, contains a wider array, such as the attorney general, treasury secretary and homeland security adviser. No Senate confirmation to serve on it is required. It is at the president's discretion.

There are also several other committees (see the executive order) that can have fluid membership and do not require confirmation.

The joint chiefs were never, by statute, part of the NSC (though the president may invite them to sit in). And while Bannon will have great influence over national security policy as part of the principals committee -- and that is properly the subject of much agitated debate -- we need to be precise in what we are talking about.


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