Updated Apr 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden lawyer, former Trump admin officials urge Insurrection Act reform

Closeup of Jack Goldsmith as he testifies before Congress.

Jack Goldsmith during the Senate Judiciary hearing on President Obama's U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan in 2010. Photo: Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

A group of former senior officials from Republican and Democratic administrations — co-lead by President Biden's personal lawyer — is urging Congress to rein in a president's ability to deploy the military inside the U.S.

Why it matters: The reforms would restrict any future administration — including a second Trump one — from unilaterally sending troops into American cities using the centuries-old Insurrection Act.

  • Though the ex-officials say the proposed reforms would apply to any future president, the push comes after former President Trump considered using the Insurrection Act in 2020 to forcefully quash protests over the killing of George Floyd.

Driving the news: On Monday, longtime Biden lawyer Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, who served as assistant attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, published their "Principles for Insurrection Act Reform."

  • Bauer said the law — which was originally enacted in 1792 and was reformed throughout the 1800's — is "poorly drafted, replete with vague or obsolete language, and it has been clear for decades that this antiquated law needs serious revision."
  • The proposed reforms — which have the support of some former Trump officials — would clarify much of the dated language and impose several limitations on the president's authority, including a 30-day limit on deploying troops "absent renewed congressional authorization."

On the campaign trail in 2023, Trump indicated he would deploy troops into Democratic-led cities even if local and state leaders don't want them.

  • "You look at these great cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco — you look at what's happening to our country, we cannot let it happen any longer," he said in Iowa.
  • "The next time, I'm not waiting," he said. "We have to get crime out of our cities."

Between the lines: This is the second bipartisan reform Bauer has pushed to rein in a potential future Trump administration.

  • The new law raised the threshold for objecting to the results, clarified the vice president's role, and made new rules on how states send their slate of electors.

Yes, but: Reforming the Insurrection Act will be more difficult given that there is now a divided Congress.

  • Still, a number of Republicans — including former Trump officials — were involved in drafting the new guidelines, including former general counsel of the C.I.A. Courtney Simmons Elwood and National Security Counsel lawyer John Eisenberg.
  • "The Principles suggest specific, common-sense reforms and are designed to allow members of both parties to find common ground," Goldsmith said in the announcement.
  • "At the same time, these modest and reasonable changes would be historic — providing necessary checks and balances where none currently exist, before they are ever needed."

Go deeper: Esper says Trump wanted to shoot protesters

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional context and details from the announcement.

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