By Connor O’Brien
Climate change poses a “major national security threat,” Rep. Jason Crow says, warning the military must prepare for it.
The freshman Colorado Democrat authored legislation, included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in July, that would require the Pentagon to account for the impact of climate change and instances of extreme weather in their installation planning.
“I learned in the Army myself that the first step to any operation is you have to assess the threat,” Crow said in an interview. “Right now, we don’t fully understand the threat that we face and the impact that it’s going have on our installations and on our soldiers.”
Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is part the so-called “gang of nine,” a tight-knit group of moderate freshman Democrats who served in the military or intelligence community. The group communicates continuously using the encrypted messaging app Signal, and Crow is known as “the master of the gif and bitmoji” of the open-ended chat.
Crow also co-sponsored an amendment to the annual House defense policy bill that would bar President Donald Trump from taking military action against Iran without approval from Congress — a move supporters in both parties say is needed to reclaim Congress’ war-making prerogative.
The measure was adopted and will likely be one of the most contentious issues when the House and Senate negotiate a final defense policy bill.
“The bottom line is Congress is the body that has to decide when to use military force, and it’s time that we start reining it in,” Crow said.
Crow has also pressed the Pentagon to headquarter the newly established U.S. Space Command at Buckley Air Force Base in his eastern Denver-based congressional district. He unseated five-term Republican Mike Coffman, a Marine and Army veteran, in a hotly contested election there in 2018.
POLITICO interviewed Crow recently by phone about his efforts to prepare the military for climate change and rein in the president’s war powers, the military’s space mission, troops on the U.S.-Mexico border and how his freshman class has influenced national security debates in Congress.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
You cosponsored the NDAA amendment requiring congressional authorization for military force against Iran. How important is it that the provision be included in the final bill?
It’s a very big priority of mine. And, obviously, that is because not only did I fight overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and saw firsthand the consequences of these AUMFs, but people throughout my community have.
We are now almost 18 years into what is our longest war by a long stretch. We have spent trillions of dollars and thousands of Americans have lost their lives.
It’s time that Congress reassert itself and assume its constitutional role in that process. That’s something that I think has growing bipartisan support. This was a bipartisan effort, and I hope that more Republicans will continue to join us in this effort.
The bottom line is Congress is the body that has to decide when to use military force, and it’s time that we start reining it in. So, it’s a very important issue for me personally. I’m going to continue to work on Armed Services and with Foreign Affairs and my colleagues to make sure we’re doing it.
More broadly, do you see momentum building to repeal and replace the 2001 AUMF?
I do sense that there’s increased momentum.
There’s a couple of really good proposals. I like [House Intelligence] Chairman [Adam] Schiff’s proposal that repeals and replaces it with a more limited scope AUMF with a three-year sunset review period.
The bottom line is we have to set some guard rails on this. Unless we have some sunsetting and a regular review and we have some very defined guard rails, we’re just going to continue to allow these wars and multiple conflicts to continue.
The 2001 AUMF has been used now to justify involvement in almost three dozen different areas and conflicts. That’s unsustainable, not only financially, but from a foreign policy and national security standpoint.
Climate change has been one of your big issues on HASC. What do you think the military needs to do differently to adapt to a changing climate?
Three issues … are really important to me — protecting the planet and … addressing climate change, … making sure that we’re being good stewards of the taxpayer and making sure that we have a strong national security — are all converging around this issue.
The planet is changing rapidly. The military knows that. … We’ve already spent billions of dollars this year alone addressing the damage to the Tyndall Air Force Base and Offutt Air Force Base. Parris Island and others have also encountered damage.
My bill just says we’re going to take the installation planning process that major military installations already have to do and we’re going to expand it so they now have to include an assessment of the impact of climate change, extreme weather, environmental conditions on those bases, so we better understand what it is we’re dealing with.
I learned in the Army myself that the first step to any operation is you have to assess the threat. … Right now, we don’t fully understand the threat that we face and the impact that it’s going have on our installations and on our soldiers.
It seems like Armed Services was unsatisfied with how the Pentagon came up with the initial rankings of the top installations in each service most vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather.
That was no surprise to me, frankly. The president and his top advisers are climate deniers. They repeatedly tried to tamp down science [and] research within multiple agencies and departments, not just the Department of Defense, across our federal government.
Who’s going to suffer are our troops and the American people. If we don’t actually address this as the major national security threat that it is, our troops are going to be in a more vulnerable position, we’re going to be less secure as a nation and we will suffer those consequences.
You’ve been pushing for the Pentagon to headquarter the new U.S. Space Command at Buckley Air Force Base in your district. What advantages do you think the base has, and what’s kind of your level of optimism that it will be selected?
Colorado is very competitive in this process.
The 460th Space Wing is headquartered in my district. We have the ecosystem of higher education and defense and aerospace companies. The quality of life, the incredible workforce, all of the things that are going to be needed to make sure that Space Command is successful we have in Colorado.
The Colorado congressional delegation is united … around making sure it ends up in Colorado. … It’s going to be good for all of the districts.
I think that Buckley Air Force Base makes a lot of sense because we’re close to the airport. We’re within the largest metropolitan region in Colorado, so we have a very deep talent pool … And, frankly, there’s value to having some separation between some of the assets, national security assets down in [Colorado] Springs. You want to make sure that you’re not putting all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak from a national security standpoint.
Both House and Senate defense bills would create a Space Force or Corps. Do you think a new space service is the right approach to address the military space mission?
I think that the House’s version … makes a lot of sense. I don’t think creation of a new military branch is the right thing to do. I think that brings with it a tremendous overhead and expense that would make it hard to fully build it out as quickly and as efficiently as we need to do. So, putting this within the Air Force, in much the same way the Marine Corps falls within the Navy, I think it makes sense as a proposal. That’s what I’d really like to see.
How concerned are you that the military’s assistance at the border is a diversion from its core mission?
There are several areas of concern. First financially … using DoD funds that are earmarked for really important purposes to support our bases and families, training and other important functions being diverted to build a … very expensive and ineffective border wall for political purposes concerns me deeply.
Second, I feel very strongly about my amendment to prevent the use of DoD resources for forcible child separation. I think it’s an immoral policy. I think history will treat it harshly — and it should because it’ll be a stain on our country for generations. And I want to make sure we’re protecting our military and our troops from being involved in that process.
There’s a long history of Guard and Reserve forces being deployed to the border … to provide support. … But what’s happening now is very different. We’re deploying large numbers of active-duty soldiers.
After 18-plus years of conflict, there is no way this doesn’t impact our readiness. We already have readiness challenges across all branches … and I just will not believe that deploying thousands of troops and taking them out of the rotation for these deployments doesn’t impact that readiness.
What are some of your other priorities?
I’m also vice chair of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats Subcommittee. We’re spending a lot of time focusing on some of the emerging threats around quantum computing, artificial intelligence and autonomous drones and hypersonics.
These are things that China is spending a lot of money on. … They’re all things that have the ability to fundamentally change the battlefield and what national security and defense looks like, even just 10 years from now.
So, we need to be looking very holistically at all of those … to address the threat that China poses and also make sure that we’re staying ahead of the curve from a technological standpoint.
If we don’t do that, we’re in a very real danger, I think, of losing our technological superiority that we have enjoyed for many decades.
You’re part of the gang of nine, but also part of a pretty large group of freshmen with considerable military and national security experience. How do you think that level of experience in the freshman class has affected the national security and foreign policy debates the House has had this year?
The G9 has been a really important group for me as a freshman. We, obviously, share that service background. We tend to approach things in a very similar way. We’re deliberate. We’re focused. … We’re team oriented, and that makes a big difference in Washington.
Beyond that, there are also a number of … freshman Republicans who also have that background.
It has allowed us to focus more on the policy debates and not to take things to a personal level. One of the things that I’ve struggled a lot with over the last few years is just how personal and toxic politics have become — people questioning each other’s motivations and love for the country.
One thing that’s nice about veterans and people that have served our country is … you’re not going to find us questioning each other’s love for the country and our motivations.
We’re going to have our deep political policy divisions and debates, but we’re not going to take it to that personal level where finding compromise becomes impossible.
Other gang of nine members say you’re the master of bitmoji in the group’s Signal chat.
Yeah. Guilty as charged. I pride myself on my bitmoji game, because … you’ve got to find the right bitmoji for the occasion, right?
Whether you’re celebrating something, giving someone a hard time, you know, being sarcastic, you’ve just got to put some thought into it. … I’m glad my friends had recognized that I focus on it appropriately.
Politics is tough, and it’s challenging being away from our families, trying to break through the environment. So, the nice thing about our group is we try to have fun. We tried to find some moments of levity where we can, and I think it makes a big difference.