SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The defense bill Congress has sent to President Joe Biden prohibits using private funds for interstate National Guard deployments like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem did this year.
The bill’s language took aim at the Republican governor’s decision to accept a $1 million donation from a Tennessee billionaire in July to send National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico in response to a request from Texas and Arizona. The $768.2 billion defense bill that cleared Congress on a bipartisan vote Wednesday contains a section that prohibits National Guard units from being ordered to cross state borders if their deployment is funded privately unless it is for a natural disaster as designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Noem’s decision was met with intense scrutiny. Military experts raised concerns that the practice could allow wealthy patrons to effectively turn National Guard troops into soldiers-for-hire for their own political agendas. The Republican governor defended it as a way to save taxpayer money while acting on an issue that was vital to national — and state — security.
Those troops have since returned.
Noem’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the National Defense Authorization Act.
The annual bill also made landmark changes to the way the military handles sexual assaults, keeps women out of the draft and lays the groundwork for a new war memorial on the National Mall.
Both of South Dakota’s Republican senators, John Thune and Mike Rounds, voted for it.
Rounds said it “includes many wins for South Dakota — including victories for Ellsworth Air Force Base, Dakota State University and Raven Aerostar.”
The bill allocates $5.7 billion for the B-21 bomber program, which will be hosted at Ellsworth Air Force Base. It also contained $15 million for a National Guard training center in Sioux Falls.
Sen. John Thune, speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, criticized the practice of amending the bill without taking a vote, but said the final product had been strengthened by Republicans, who pushed for a larger defense budget.
“We’ve made a lot of progress over the past several years on rebuilding our military,” he said.