A Look at the New House Republican Leadership on National Security and Nuclear Weapons

By Kingston Reif and Jessica Estanislau The November 2010 elections saw the Republicans take back the House of Representatives.  The change in power means that there are new Sheriffs in town calling the shots on the key House Committees dealing with nuclear weapons.  Below are brief profiles of the new leaders of three key Committees and Subcommittees: Foreign Affairs, the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, and the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairwoman, Committee on Foreign Affairs New House International Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen intends to play a very active role on nuclear policy-related issues.  Two areas in particular are likely to come under her close scrutiny.  First, Ros-Lehtinen has long been a skeptic of U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries.  She opposed the U.S.-Russia 123 agreement, which entered into force last December, and has taken a hard line on administration plans to negotiate similar such deals with Jordan, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia.  Ros-Lehtinen also raised questions about deals negotiated by the George W. Bush administration.  For example, she was one of the few members of Congress to express reservations about the U.S.-UAE 123 agreement.  And although she ultimately supported the U.S.-India Nuclear deal, she co-sponsored a bill to strengthen the agreement which caused unease in India.  Look for her to introduce legislation in the 112th Congress to revamp Congressional procedures for considering civilian nuclear cooperation agreements.  Second, Ros-Lehtinen is an advocate of tougher punitive measures against and Iran and North Korea.  Instead of pursuing a strategy of engagement toward these regimes, she believes that the U.S. must impose tougher sanctions than the Obama administration seems willing to pursue. Michael Turner (R-OH), Chairman, Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Armed Services Committee As Ranking Member on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee in the 111th Congress, Michael Turner was a thorn in the side of the President’s nuclear risk reduction agenda.  During the House Armed Services Committee’s consideration of the FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Act last May, Turner offered a sense of congress amendment proclaiming that the Nuclear Posture Review weakens U.S. national security by taking options off the table to respond to a catastrophic nuclear, chemical, biological, or conventional attack.  The amendment was included in the House version of the bill but was expunged from the final bill that passed in the lame duck session of the Congress.  Turner is also a strong advocate of U.S. missile defense programs.  He was skeptical of the Obama administration’s September 2009 decision to cancel the Bush-planned system for establishing a third site for National Missile Defense in Poland and the Czech Republic.  He also accused the administration of slashing funding for missile defense systems and offered amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill to restore that funding.  In March 2010, Tuner released letters from each of the three directors of the U.S. national nuclear weapons laboratories questioning the conclusion drawn by the JASON defense advisory group that “[l]ifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs [Life Extension Programs] to date.”  Finally, last December Turner organized a letter with Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and 14 other House Republicans urging the Senate to delay consideration of the New START treaty until 2011. Expect Turner to continue to cast doubt on the Obama administration’s initiatives on nuclear issues in the 112th Congress. (Note: for an earlier profile of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, see here.) Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Chairman, Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, Appropriations Committee As the new Chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Freylinghuysen will have an enormous say over funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons activities and defense nuclear nonproliferation accounts.  Freylinghuysen was a strong supporter of the administration’s FY 2011 budget increases for life extension programs and the construction of new nuclear facilities in Tennessee and New Mexico.  However, Freylinghuysen cast doubt on the merits of the administration’s request for an additional $320 million for nuclear security programs, noting in March 2010 that while the President’s goal to secure all vulnerable materials was “laudable”, it is “not well defined and I'm worried about implementation.” Addressing the overall increase in the energy and water appropriations bill, Frelinghuysen said “My constituents are increasingly concerned about the country's growing budget deficit and are calling for budget cuts, not budget increases,” he said.  Despite these concerns, the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee fully funded the administration’s FY 2011 request for nonproliferation programs, with his support.