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McGeehan’s Effort to Discharge Defend the Guard Act Fails

Del. Pat McGeehan calls on delegates to support his discharge motion to bring the Defend the Guard Act to the House floor for a vote.

CHARLESTON — An effort Tuesday by Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, to get a piece of legislation that would prohibit West Virginia’s National Guard reservists from serving in non-declared war zones failed in a tie vote.

A motion by McGeehan to discharge House Bill 2732, the Defend the Guard Act, failed 50-50, but not before a motion to table McGeehan’s discharge motion by House Majority Leader Amy Summers also failed 50-50, allowing House members to debate the original motion.

The Defend the Guard Act would prohibit members of the state National Guard from participating in active combat duty unless an act of war has been passed by Congress or if Congress has specifically called for use of the National Guard within its constitutional powers.

“It’s a bill that shouldn’t really be too controversial,” McGeehan said. “Our men and women in National Guard units under the state governor’s control cannot be sent overseas into combat in these perpetual foreign wars without an official declaration of war from the U.S. Congress.”

McGeehan, who served as a captain and intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, has introduced a version of the act every year for the last five years. McGeehan said a coalition was formed, and 10 states have similar Defend the Guard bills, with as many as 12 other states expected to introduce similar bills.

“It’s near and dear to my heart, because it’s been clear to me that over the last two decades we’ve had this sort of status quo where it is somehow acceptable for unilateral action to be taken not by just the executive, but also the Pentagon to send our men and women in the Armed Forces overseas into undeclared wars and unending wars,” McGeehan said.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, spoke against the discharge motion. Cowles said discharge motions circumvent the committee process, which can determine the pros and cons of the bill.

“Here on the floor, a debate on the merits of a bill is ripe for us to consider once the committee process has gone through certain steps,” Cowles said. “I’m not sure I understand what the real life, real world consequences would be, the reaction of the federal government, the reaction by the military brass, and what that would mean for our bases. I’d like to see the Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Committee call to the podium witnesses and find out what that would mean.”

McGeehan’s motion had bipartisan support. Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said House Republican leadership has constantly treated McGeehan poorly.

“He gets no respect, (the Defend the Guard Act) gets put in a minor committee. At minimum, let’s discharge it and send it to a major committee, like Judiciary,” Sponaugle said. “(McGeehan) has worked hard on this. People around the country are looking at (McGeehan’s) bill. Some of you may like him, some of you may not like him, but the idea he is expressing deserves debate.”

During the 2019 legislative session when McGeehan served as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the Defend the Guard Act was recommended for passage Feb 15, 2019, but was never taken up by the House Judiciary Committee. McGeehan, a member of the House Judiciary Committee as well, was removed from the committee by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, three days later at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer.

McGeehan tried a similar motion to discharge the Defend the Guard Act last year, but the motion was tabled in a 49-47 vote on Feb. 22, 2019. Three days later, a motion was made to take the discharge motion off the table in a 53-44 vote and the Defend the Guard Act was discharged 56-41. The bill made it to second reading in the House until it was placed on the inactive calendar by the House Rules Committee on Feb. 27, 2019.

“I had to do this last year because it became quite obvious that half way through the session that this bill was not going to see the light of day,” McGeehan said.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He encouraged committee chairman Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, to put the bill on the committee’s agenda.

“I would encourage our chairman to take this bill up, but I don’t believe that the floor of the House of Delegates is the place to discuss this bill,” Kelly said. “I do believe it needs to be discussed. I think it’s an important bill to be discussed.”

“(McGeehan) has a good bill, but this bill has a lot of pushback,” Bibby said. “I’m going to vote against the discharge, because it will come back to the Veterans committee and we’ll either be able to move that bill out, or have a resolution drafted up that’s similar to the bill.”

“This bill isn’t going to go anywhere. The Senate is not going to pick it up. It is not going to become law, but I think it is at least going to open people’s eyes to what we’re doing. We need our Congress to do its job.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed two proposals Jan. 30: to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq, and to prevent any further Iranian attacks without approval from Congress.

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