CHARLESTON, S.C. The nation's governors on Saturday launched a bipartisan drive to block a move to expand the president's authority to take over National Guard troops in case of natural disaster or homeland security threats.
At a closed-door luncheon on the opening day of the annual summer meeting of the National Governors Assn., the chairman, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, told colleagues that a provision in the House-passed defense authorization bill would end the historic link between the states and their Guard units.
Huckabee and his vice chairwoman, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, plan to ask all the governors at the session to sign a letter of protest today aimed at killing the provision when House and Senate conferees meet next month on the bill.
Huckabee told reporters that the move to shift control of the Guard to the president during national emergencies "violates 200 years of American history" and is symptomatic of a larger federal effort to make states no more than "satellites of the national government."
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the senior Democrat, called the proposal "one step away from a complete takeover of the National Guard, the end of the Guard as a dual-function force that can respond to both state and national needs."
The provision was tucked into the House version of the defense bill without notice to the states, something Vilsack said he resented as much as the proposal itself.
Under the provision, the president would have authority to take control of the Guard in case of "a serious natural or manmade disaster, accident or catastrophe" in the United States.
Huckabee said he did not know if President Bush wanted that authority but said "the administration is supporting this."
He and Vilsack said they thought the provision was a reaction to Hurricane Katrina, when Bush debated taking control of National Guard units from Louisiana and Mississippi to end confusion about who was responsible for security in storm-devastated areas.
Vilsack said he had long since proposed an alternative that would give command authority to a federal official at the site of any disaster, while retaining a governor's authority over troops in his state.
Calls to a spokesman for the White House National Security Council staff, where the plan reportedly originated, were not returned.
Huckabee, who is considering a presidential bid in 2008, said Congress and the administration - run by his fellow Republicans - have moved far from what he called the "traditional states' rights position" of conservatives.