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Bills to require legislative approval to send National Guard to war sweep U.S., including Arizona

An effort to require the approval of Congress or the state legislatures to deploy the National Guard is sweeping the nation. But the attempt hit a wall in Arizona. 

The Arizona National Guard can be deployed by the president. Republican state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require the approval of Congress or the Legislature to send the Guard to war. But stakeholders convinced lawmakers, and even some of the bill’s co-sponsors, that it would have drastic consequences. 

“If this bill passes, we’ll lose all our funding,” Arizona National Guard member and Brigadier General John Conley said. “We will lose all of our equipment, and you won't have soldiers, because they don't want to work for a toothless constabulary.”

While the state Guard is “at rest” they are deployed at the discretion of the governor. In Arizona, that’s Democrat Katie Hobbs. 

She used her power recently to deploy National Guard members to the border when the federal government temporarily closed the Lukeville Port of Entry.

However, Hobbs doesn’t have as much power over the Guard as the president does. 

Guard members overlap, serving at both the state and national levels.

“You are in both. … As soon as the president flips the switch, you are in the U.S. National Guard, not the Arizona one. You can’t be in both at the same time,” Conley explained.

“The notion that by passing this bill the governor’s somehow going to be able to stop, or the Legislature’s going to be able to stop, the Arizona National Guard from deploying is frankly nonsense. Unless she runs out onto the tarmac and throws herself in front of a KC-135, she has no ability to stop the National Guard,” he said.

The bill was voted down 12-3 in its first committee hearing, with bipartisan opposition. But it can still be revived. 

More than half of the 50 states have a version of this bill in their legislaturesthis year. It’s called the “Defend the Guard” act. 

In Arizona, the bill was introduced in the Houseby Alexander Kolodin (R-Scottsdale) and in the Senate by Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff). It has several Republican co-sponsors and even one Democrat: Rep. Stacey Travers (D-Phoenix). Travers ended up voting "no."

Rogers’ bill passed its first Senate hearing on party lines and is still in play.

Congress is the only legislative branch that has the right to declare war, but Congress has not declared war since World War II. That doesn't mean the U.S. hasn’t been at war in the meantime.

Kolodin thinks Congress is shirking its duties by not making the formal move to declare war.

“They have cowered, frankly, behind the executive branch, refusing to stick their necks enough to put Arizonans on the line to fight and die,” he said.

Kolodin predicts that the United States would take part in fewer wars if Congress were required to act in order for guardsmen to be deployed.

He also wants Arizona’s National Guard to remain in Arizona and focus on the border.

“The gap that can only really be filled in truth by having men and women with guns standing on that border,” Kolodin said.

“I think this is an excellent idea for Congress to take up,” Rep. John Gillette (R-Kingman) said.

He was a sponsor of the bill, but ended up voting no. Gillette acknowledged that the Guard is “overused,” but he’s too concerned that the bill would end up stripping them of their federal resources.

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.